Charlie Hewitt – management 1930s style

A look through the minutes of the meetings in the 1930s ledger turned up some interesting information about the club. From my point of view the most fascinating revelation was Charlie Hewitt’s position at the club.

Hewitt’s job title at Chester was secretary-manager but I never appreciated how this role worked. Certainly I envisaged him as primarily a football man who handled some of the administration. However, the meeting minutes shed a different light on affairs and it seems that the balance was tilted more towards the running of the club than I imagined.

Charlie Hewitt

Charlie Hewitt

Hewitt was born in the north-east in 1884 and had an unremarkable football career spending short periods with Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Crystal Palace and Hartlepools United. He took his first managerial role at Mold before spells in charge at Wrexham, Flint and Connah’s Quay. He became Chester’s first manager in 1930 and lead them into the Football League in 1931 after an incredible season in which they scored 170 goals in the Cheshire County League and finished runners-up to Port Vale Reserves. The season was notable for the quality of players attracted to the club with Chester taking advantage of the loan system and bringing in experienced Football League players like Arthur Gale, Frank Creswell and Dave Morris.

The minutes show that Hewitt spent a lot of time scouting for players and he would make transfer recommendations to the board but when it came to selecting or organising the team his input was more limited. I had read in the past that his philosophy was to find the right man for the right position and that seems to be the key to his success at Chester. He didn’t believe in using confusing tactics or giving a player a role for which he had no experience and as far as he was concerned it was a matter of getting the team forward to score goals in as straightforward a fashion as possible. Hewitt employed a number of trainers, like Jock Simpson and Hughie Ross, whose main job was to get the players fit, but on reflection I wonder how significant it is that in the majority of team groups in On The Borderline it is the trainer rather than Hewitt who appears in the team photograph.

In those early Football League days Chester employed a selection committee and this seems to have caused some conflict between Hewitt and the board of directors. An example of this can be seen in October 1933 when the committee met to select the team against Stockport. The minutes report that Hewitt recommended Gerry Kelly play in place of Sammy Armes who had picked up an injury but the selection committee was divided on who to select and in the end it was resolved to refer the position of outside right to the full board of directors which must have been extremely frustrating for Hewitt.

In the end Kelly played and scored with Chester drawing 1-1 but this coincided with a run that saw the club win only two of the first 12 games of the season. In a meeting at the end of October one of the directors expressed his view that the club would only start to win matches when the board accepted the selection recommendations of Hewitt. The secretary-manager certainly made his opinions known when he told the board where he thought the problems rested saying that Kelly would not make a centre-forward due to his not liking the position. He also suggested other changes in the starting line-up stating, amongst other things, that he was dissatisfied with the play and captaincy of Harry Skitt and accusing Frank Cresswell of malingering.

The situation appears to have been partially resolved the following week when the board agreed to cease with a selection committee and act on the recommendations of the secretary-manager. Although this seemed to place more power in the hands of Hewitt it still left the final decision with the board as can be seen when the decision to select Skitt against Darlington a few weeks later was passed by a vote of six to three.

In fact it could be argued that the board were often in a better position to judge current form than Hewitt who often appeared to be on scouting missions. In his time at Millwall (where he became manager in 1936) it was noted that he was rarely seen on match days which seemed to continue the trend he began at Sealand Road. Interestingly, when he took up the managerial position at Millwall, he insisted on having full control of affairs which is something he did not get at Chester.

A perfect example of Hewitt’s approach to match days can be seen in September 1933. While the first eleven were chalking up an impressive 3-0 win at Wrexham the secretary-manager was with the reserves at Stockport. In fact, even in games when Hewitt was present, he did not maintain control of the team and one of the resolutions in the minutes states:

“..during progress of any game, home or away, Directors present in charge or Sec-Manager be and is hereby empowered to make such positional changes as thought necessary.”

Clearly Hewitt was heavily involved in transfer activity but he also appeared to run all the day to day operations at the club. He was a trained accountant, in charge of all the financial books, as well as handling matters like ticket and travel arrangements, insurance and advertising. In June 1933, the board registered appreciation for Hewitt on his book-keeping and accountancy skills.

In these days of performance related payments it is notable that, at one board meeting, Hewitt requested that he be paid commission on the advertising in the ground as well as a percentage of any transfer fee received. This request seems to have been initially ignored but when it was brought up again at the end of the year the board agreed to his request for a percentage of the advertising revenue but, at least initially, turned down the transfer fee proposal much to Hewitt’s dissatisfaction.

When the secretary-manager moved to Millwall in 1936 he was replaced as manager by Alex Raisbeck with clerk Billy Peters took over the role of secretary.

Hewitt himself had a big impact when he first moved down to London taking Millwall to the semi-final of the FA Cup followed by the Division Three South title the following season. However, his time at the Den ended in disgrace when he was suspended for six months for making illegal payments to players before being sacked soon afterwards in 1940. After serving with the Royal Navy during the war he returned to football as Leyton Orient manager in 1946 but resigned less than a year later after a disagreement about signing players. Although he was reinstated at Orient he, perhaps surprisingly, returned to Millwall in August 1948 after two undistinguished seasons at Brisbane Road.

He was less successful in his second spell at Millwall and his autocratic style did not go down well as the team struggled. An abrasive character he was sacked in Janaury 1956 and it was reported that the players were so relieved by his departure that most of them went out for a celebratory drink together.

In the 1960s Hewitt made an unsuccessful attempt to join the board of directors at Chester and died shortly afterwards, in Darlington, in December 1966.

Charlie Hewitt’s time at Sealand Road proved to be one of the club’s most successful periods but his role incorporated activities not normally associated with today’s football manager. His talent seems to have revolved around wheeling and dealing in the transfer market rather than team selection and tactics. This approach would explain why very few local players made a breakthrough into the first team in his time in charge. Conversely his influence off the field appears to have been much greater than expected at a time that Chester were making the transition from the Cheshire County League to the Football League.

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“The Stadium”

One of the most interesting items of club memorabilia I have ever seen was recently loaned to Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin.

A 336 page hardback ledger, spanning the period from November 1932 to February 1937, was in the possession of a relative of former clerk and secretary Billy Peters. It makes fascinating reading as it covers board meetings with subjects ranging from club finances and team selection down to travel arrangements and the provision of fire extinguishers.

After my recent articles on Sealand Road there was one item that took my eye. In January 1934 item 2945 referred to the naming of the ground:

Naming of the Ground

Naming of the Ground

“Sec-manager recommended the ground be given a name such as “The Stadium”, Sealand Road, Chester. Resolved on the suggestion of Mr C.J.F. Owen that the Chairman and Sec. Manager use the words The Stadium on posters and letterheads when the public would would follow the lead and accept the title.”

I never appreciated that the ground had formally been entitled “The Stadium” in this way. I had presumed that the name had been adopted by default after its construction in 1906. Given the circumstances I am surprised that such a bland, unimaginative name was endorsed. The naming may have been prompted by the imminent arrival of the Greyhound Stadium, which was built next door the following year, but I would have thought that this would have prompted a more creative title.

Ground name 1932

Ground name 1932

Ground Name 1935

Ground Name 1935

Although The Stadium may have been the official name I think it is fair to say that it never fully caught on. I always though of it as Sealand Road and this was always how the ground was known in footballing circles.

1932 Ledger  Copyright © Rick Matthews

1932 Ledger
Copyright © Rick Matthews

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Sealand Road Remains – 1

With the restoration of the plaque I thought it would be interesting to collate some pictures of other parts of the Sealand Road Stadium that have survived. I am hoping that this will be the first of a number of articles and I would urge anyone to get in contact if they have anything of interest.

The most obvious place to start is the roof of the main stand which was installed at the previously uncovered Hamil Road End of Port Vale’s Vale Park Ground in 1992. According to Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Britain book the stand roof was bought from Chester for a bargain price but the final bill for its transport, re-erection and repainting came to £350,000.

Main Stand 1990 Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Main Stand 1990
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Demolition of the stand roof
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Stand roof during demolition
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

Coincidentally the first team to utilise the new covered Hamil Road End was Chester when they played a League Two fixture at the ground in September 1992 and were beaten 2-0. The following photographs were taken by Fraser Warburton at that game and with no adverts or Vale branding the stand still looks very much like it did at Sealand Road.

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Hamil Road End Port Vale September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Corner of the stand at Vale Park
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992 Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Standing at Vale Park in September 1992
Copyright © Fraser Warburton

Port Vale v Chester - September 1992

Inglis’ book also states that some surplus roof cladding from Sealand Road was also used at the other end of the ground in the small angled Family stand between the Railway and Bycars Lane Stands.

In 1995, 4,550 seats were installed and Blues fans were able to sit under the stand roof for the first time for a Worthington Cup tie in 1998. Two Luke Beckett goals gave Chester a 2-1 victory in that game. There was a return to the ground the following year in the same competition for that memorable 4-4 draw in Terry Smith’s first game in charge.

Sitting under the stand roof - Port Vale v Chester in September 1998 Copyright © NWN Media

Sitting under the stand roof – Port Vale v Chester in September 1998
Copyright © Leader newspaper

The second item was salvaged form the demolition of the ground in 1992 by supporter Alan Potter who managed to carry it back to his house in Blacon which is quite an achievment given its size.

Entrance sign

Entrance sign

The admission price board was initially in place at the Sealand Road End as can be seen from my accompanying photo.

The entrance sign in its original location Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The entrance sign in its original location
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The final item is a gem from the old wooden Sealand Road stand and is the sign from above the away team dressing room that I was given several years ago.

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

Sign from old Sealand Road stand

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Plaque Unveiling

The installation was completed last week when Art Graphics of Saltney erected an information board alongside the sandstone plaque. This was followed by an unveiling on Saturday before the players embarked on the victory parade to the town hall.

The unveiling was attended by Rob Fleet, who retrieved the broken plaque back in 1992, as well as former ISA chairman George Rogers who had looked after the pieces in recent years. Also present were Pauline Meakins, representing the Chester Exiles who sponsored the information board, as well as Chester FC chairman Tony Durkin and members of the Senior Blues.

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque with Information Board

Plaque Unveiling - May 2013 Photograph - Rick Matthews

Plaque Unveiling – May 2013
Copyright © Rick Matthews

Before the event I was talking to Rob about the “Chester Football Club Limited” lettering that appeared above the plaque (see the picture in the February 1st article) and wondered what had happened to it. I had always thought they were individual letters attached to the wall but Rob says that they were embedded in breeze blocks and they were too big to remove. It begs the question did anyone salvage a letter as a souvenir?

This led me on to another thought. I know that other parts of the ground were salvaged by supporters after the ground’s demolition and I thought it might be a nice idea to put together some photographs and stories in an article. I have already received pictures of the old stand roof in place at Port Vale when it was still distinctly recognisable as coming from Sealand Road.

Unfortunately I missed out on taking pictures of the old stand seats which were used at the Greyhound Stadium in Ellesmere Port. These seats have recently been removed but if anyone has a picture that would be great.

Please get in touch via the message form below if you have anything of interest or just add a comment.

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Return of the Plaque

After 21 years the Supporter’s Plaque has returned home and been positioned on the outside of the ground by the main office.

Altomont Townsend and the students at the college have done a superb restoration job and three students from the Bricklaying Level 1 course, Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan and Danny Dowling put the plaque in place on the wall today.

Finished plaque at the college. Photo - Altomont Townsend

Finished plaque at the college.
Photo – Altomont Townsend

Installing the plaque Photo - Tony Pate

Installing the plaque
Photo – Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place Photo - Tony Pate

Putting the plaque in place
Photo – Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque - Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling Photo - Tony Pate

Bricklaying students with the finished plaque – Joe Lawrence, Jamie Morgan, Danny Dowling
Photo – Altomont Townsend

The information board has been completed, thanks to sponsorship from the Chester Exiles, and this is expected to be erected alongside the plaque later this week.

In my previous posting I speculated that the plaque may have been made by Clegg’s stonemasons on Bumpers Lane but a more plausible explanation has since come forward.  Steve and Colin Mansley, whose grandfather’s cousin was Chester chairman at the time, tell me that there was a Mansley’s stonemasonry business at Handbridge, where Blackwell’s Stonecraft Ltd is now located, and it seems more likely to me that the plaque originated from there.

The finished plaque in place

The finished plaque in place

The finished article

The finished article

On Saturday May 11th, at 12:30 pm, there will be an official unveiling of the plaque which is scheduled to take place before the players embark on their open-top bus trip to the town hall. Supporters are welcome to attend.

For the full story behind the restoration there have been three previous posts on the topic which can be found in the archives under Grounds.

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Plaque Restoration Progress

Last week I went along to West Cheshire College to see how work on the Supporters Club plaque was progressing. In fact the stone is now almost finished and they are currently painting the letters. The department estimates that it will need between one and two days to complete the job although you need to bear in mind that restoration work can only take place once a week.

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

Plaque restoration progress at Chester College

We have been looking at a location for the plaque and hope to install it on the wall between the player’s entrance and the ticket office window, close to the supporter’s bricks.

There is a small piece missing from the right hand side of the plaque and stonemason Altomont Townsend thought it would be better to leave this rather than patch it up. I am in complete agreement with this as it serves to emphasise the restoration work that has been performed. Altomont also pointed out to me the symbolism in the broken plaque and the football club with the repair and return of the plaque imitating the work that the supporters have done in re-building and restoring the new Chester FC.  It also acts as a strong link with the supporters from the 1930s who did so much to help the club in their early years in the Football League.

As well as spotting the paintwork on the lettering, which would have only lasted for a few years, Altomont also had some interesting theories on the making of the plaque. First of all he thinks it would have been made by someone associated with Clegg’s who were based in Bumpers Lane (no relation to tannoy announcer Robbie Clegg). They were the only stonemasons in the city but went bust in the 1970s or 1980s. It is also likely that the engraving was done by an apprentice, perhaps a Chester supporter, rather than by a professional stonemason. He bases this theory on the fact that he identied one or two flaws in the original work and  it is certainly possible to spot that the five in the year does not quite match up with the rest of the date.

If anyone has any further information on the original making of the plaque then Altomont and myself would be very interested to hear from you.

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Supporters Club Plaque Restoration

Since my February post there has been significant progress in the project to restore the sandstone plaque to its former glory. West Cheshire College has agreed to do the restoration work at no cost to the club. This has been made possible through Chester’s Volunteer Learning Co-ordinator Carol Bennett’s connection with the college.

Plaque just before ground demolition in 1992 Copyright © Steve Mansley

Plaque just before the ground demolition
Copyright © Steve Mansley

At the end of February we took the three sections down to the college in Handbridge and since then the students, under the leadership of master mason Altomont Townsend, have been hard at work on its re-construction.

Delivering the plaque Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Delivering the plaque
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Plaque ready for restoration
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

This project has proved beneficial to all parties and Altomont described how the college became involved:

“Carol approached us and said she had a small project to do with the football club. She asked if we could take it on so we asked her to bring it along and we would see what we could do. For us it was interesting to do something for the club and I like to pass on any jobs to the students so that they can work on it and gain more experience in stonemasonry.”

The college are trying to get a stonemason’s department up and running and are aiming to find a venue within the campus for their work. So far the project has been restricted to a Thursday evening and Altomont explained the processes involved in the restoration:

“First of all, we had to clean up all the stone and remove all the algae so that we could glue it together. Using steel dowels we drilled the stone and epoxy-resined them together to make sure it was flat. The second process was to rub the stone down so that we had a nice polished surface and then we will move on to carving into it. I want the students to re-carve the letters so they stand out a bit more.”

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John RobertsCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Master mason Altomont Townsend supervises student John Roberts
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Work is expected to take another two or three weeks although Altomont is trying to make more time available so it can be finished a bit quicker. As he says it has been an interesting rather than a tough job to work on:

“We are looking for more projects like this that we can learn from so that we can see how it was done years ago and then re-create it. It’s a learning curve for us, we enjoy doing it and we learn how these old projects were done.”

One detail that has emerged from the work so far is that the letters were initially painted black and the intention is to restore the paintwork to match the original.

Restoration in progressCopyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Restoration in progress
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

Once the restoration has been completed the next stage will be to return it to the club and arrange for it to be re-mounted on one of the walls at the ground.

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost. Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

The Sealand Road End in 1990 showing the brickwork that was added in 1935. The plaque is just visible by the lamppost.
Copyright © http://www.chesterfootballhistory.com

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