Chester FC was founded in 1885 as an amalgamation of Chester Rovers and Old King’s Scholars FC and initially played their home games at Faulkner Street in the Hoole area of the City on a ground that was said to have had a very poor playing surface, writes Malcolm Johnson.
After initially playing only friendly and occasional cup matches, Chester joined a league known as The Combination League in 1890, and January 1891 saw a first ever meeting with then Midland League side Lincoln City. The Citizens as they were then known were beaten 1-0 at Faulkner Street in an FA Cup First Round match.
In 1898 the ground fell into the hands of builders, and the club was forced to move, but after spending a year at a venue called The Old Showground between Hoole Lane and Hoole Road they once again had to make way for a housing project. Now homeless, the club was disbanded for a couple of seasons before being reformed in 1901 and playing at a ground on Whipcord Lane. However, its small size and tendency to flood made it an unsuitable long-term home for the ambitious club and a move was made in 1906 to a ground on Sealand Road which was simply named The Stadium. The first game there saw a 4-0 win against Bangor City in The Combination on 15 December 1906.
In 1910 the club were elected to the Lancashire Combination and in 1919 became founder members of the Cheshire County League, a competition which they won three times during the 1920s. A concerted effort was made to attain Football League status, with improved covered stands at the ground including a new main stand opened in 1931. After finishing as runners up in the Cheshire County League in that same year the club were duly elected to Football League Division Three (North) in place of Lancashire side Nelson.
The Sealand Road stadium now had the wooden main stand, which was eventually made up of two structures, the covered Sealand Road end known as ‘The Barn’, an open Popular Side terrace and a Spion Kop made of paving stones. It was also said to be one of the first grounds in the Football League to be equipped with a public address system.
The first Football League match at Sealand Road saw Chester thrash Wigan Borough 4–0 on 29 August 1931 in front of an attendance of 12,625. This match however, was later expunged from the records along with all of Wigan’s results due to them going out of business during the season. Therefore, Chester’s first home Football League match now stands as a 3-1 win over Halifax Town on 12 September 1931 with the attendance now down to 6,824.
Lincoln City’s first visit to Sealand Road took place on Christmas Day 1931 in front of a holiday crowd of 10,184, which was to be the highest-ever for a match against the Imps. City record goalscorer Allan Hall’s 21st goal of the season was not enough to prevent the third-placed Imps from going down 2-1 to the sixth-placed home side.
In their first Football League season Chester finished a very creditable third, but with Lincoln promoted as champions the next meetings between the two sides did not take place until after City’s two-year stay in the Second Division. The penultimate game of the 1934/35 season saw City’s first win on the ground thanks to the only goal of the game scored by Thomas Robinson with his 11th goal in 11 games. The game saw the Imps debut, although on the left wing, of later stalwart left back Billy Bean. Almost a year later City were back at Sealand Road, but a 4-2 win for the home side moved them up to second in the table where they finished. City’s goals came from Johnny Campbell with his 24th of the season and Albert Green.
A 7-3 defeat is not a very common result, but City unfortunately contrived to lose by that scoreline three times in the space of ten years, the last occasion coming at Sealand Road in the 1936/37 season despite the presence of legendary Imps goalkeeper Dan McPhail. Chester were top of the table at the time with City fourth, but by the end of the season they had overtaken the home side to finish in second place. City’s goals were scored by Johnny Campbell, on his way to 35 for the season, right half Henry Raw, and an own goal.
The 1937/38 season produced City’s first draw on the ground as Campbell scored for the third time in a row at Sealand Road to become the only City player ever to do so as a 1-1 draw put City on top the table with Chester moving up to second. However, both sides fell away to finish well short of the single promotion place. Another draw, this time goal-less, came in the last season before the outbreak of war as again the point gained moved the home side up to second place only for them to once again fall away, as City themselves spent the whole season in the lower half of the league table.
The first season after the war saw a 3-0 win for the home side as Chester once again challenged for promotion although finishing well short of runaway champions Doncaster Rovers, while City continued from where they had left off in mid-table. In 1947/48, now under the management of Bill Anderson City gained their third draw in four visits to Chester thanks to a goal from inside-left Ken Walshaw. Although top of the table prior to the match the single point saw a slip to second place, however the majority of the second half of the season saw City leading the division as they pipped Rotherham United to the championship by one point. Chester meanwhile slipped from mid-table to 20th out of 22 as they endured their worst season since election to the league sixteen years before.
After a solitary season in Division Two Lincoln were back at Sealand Road again in November 1949 with a goal from recent signing from Sunderland Jackie Robinson in a 3-1 defeat. The fixture in the 1950/51 season was notable for featuring the only goal scored by centre half Tony Emery in his long Imps career, but a 2-1 defeat contributed to City falling short of a promotion challenge. This however was the prelude to a record-breaking season, and what was only City’s second win in eleven visits to Sealand Road came at the beginning of February 1952 thanks to Andy Graver’s 32nd goal of the season. The attendance for this game was a fairly typical five and a half thousand or so, but just over two weeks previously Sealand Road had seen its record crowd of 20,378 for an FA Cup Third Round replay against Chelsea won 3-2 by the First Division side after extra-time.
Lincoln then embarked on a nine-season stay in the Second Division while Chester were unable to reproduce their consistently high placings of the 1930s and were required to make two applications in a row for re-election to the Third Division (North) followed later by two more to the Fourth Division of which they were original members. It was in the Fourth tier that the two clubs met again in the 1962/63 season following Lincoln’s successive relegations from Divisions Two and Three.
In the meantime, Sealand Road had seen the installation of floodlights, used for the first time in October 1960.
April 1963 saw the first of what was to be the longest run of visits to the ground by City and goals from Bob Rooney and the 20-year-old Roger Holmes were unable to prevent a 3-2 defeat in a game between two struggling sides. With both clubs successfully re-elected to the league at the end of the season, in Chester’s case for the third time in a row, the next game just under a year later saw City again concede three goals with only a Bud Houghton strike in reply as both sides improved to finish in mid-table.
It was then City’s turn them to make three consecutive applications for re-election and the 1964/65 season produced their heaviest losing margin on the ground so far. With the team under the direction of coach Con Moulson a rare goal from full back Alf Jones who scored from one penalty and missed another was the only reply to five from the home side’s free-scoring attack. Chester, in fact, ended that season with five players having scored 20 goals or more towards a total of 119, but a very leaky defence which let in 81 meant a final placing of eighth. City were in 21st place following this defeat and similarly after two late goals from the home side in a 4-2 scoreline the following season they were 22nd. Both Imps goals came from Barry Hutchinson and made him the only Lincoln City player ever to score twice in one match at Sealand Road. The win put Chester fourth in the table but a poor end to the season saw them fail in their promotion challenge.