In His Own Words-Charlie Chester

This is a transcript of an article that appeared in the Bedford Record for 13 December 1932, with notes by me


Thirty-six years with Bedford football

The Eagles “hatch out”

This football season marks the twenty-fifth year that Mr “Charlie” Chester has been trainer to the Eagles, and during those years he has seen the Club have many ups and downs. But despite its variable fortunes the Club has not had a more devoted servant than “Charlie” Chester, who has become a familiar figure, with his towel and sponge, on every association football ground associated with the Northants and East Midlands Leagues. He is an efficient trainer and deservedly popular with the players. Before joining the Eagles in 1908 he was first a playing member and then the trainer of the Queen’s Works AFC . He has never lost interest in the game and he has watched the Association code develop and increase its popularity in Bedford and district since 1896. Naturally, he has a rich store of interesting reminiscences, and might be termed a “walking encyclopaedia” on Bedford football matters.

His son Jack, popularly known as “Doughy”, is a member of the present Eagles eleven and he has played for them for twelve-and-a-half seasons. This is surely a record for a father and a son, and it would not be inappropriate to show appreciation of their long and valued service by arranging a benefit match on their behalf, or, at least, for Mr “Charlie” Chester[1]. A Bedford Record reporter had an interesting interview with the Eagles’ trainer last week and heard the unofficial history of the Bedford Town AFC and also many informative facts relative to the Queen’s Works AFC.

Played for Doncaster Rovers

Mr Chester, who is a native of Lincoln, began his football career with Lincoln Casuals and later played for Lincoln City Reserves and Doncaster Rovers. He was an outside-left. It was while playing for the Yorkshire team that he made his first acquaintance with Rushden, a town that he has visited in connexion with football scores of times in the last thirty years. Doncaster met Rushden Windmill[2] in the old Midland League in 1896, when “Chic” Clark and Jack Lilley were stalwarts of Rushden. It was also in 1896 that Mr Chester came to Bedford, for he began work at WH Allen and Sons, where he is still employed. Naturally, the Queen’s Works AFC claimed his attention and he soon won his place on the left wing. The team in that year was: Campbell; Josh and George Allen; Robinson, Smart and Arthur Hoar; Peter Smith, Teddy Payne, George Goodwin, Billy Payne and Charlie Chester. There was no Bedford League that season, but in 1897 the Bedford and District League was formed. Mr Chester smiled as he related the thrilling struggles Queen’s Works had in that first season against Ampthill, Bedford Montrose, Bedford Albion, Kempston Rovers, Leighton Springs, Woburn Sands and Wymington. The League was well established and run on well-conducted lines, and a welcome gift of a challenge trophy was received from Mr W H Allen[3], the subscribers for the Cup being Mr Allen, Mr Guy Pym MP and Mr C C Hawkins.

In that season the Queen’s Works eleven won their way to the final of the Bedfordshire Cup competition, but were beaten by Luton Vulcan by one goal to nil on the Luton Town ground. But they established a reputation as dour cup fighters and they maintained it by reaching the final of the same competition in the following two seasons. In 1898/99 Queen’s were defeated in the final on Willmer’s field[4], London Road, by Luton Town Reserves, and in season 1899/00 they were vanquished by Mr Ted Humphreys’s Bedford Albion eleven. However, they had the honour of winning the Bedford League championship in the seasons 1898/99 and 1899/1900, and Mr Chester still values his medals, symbols of keen footballing days. The 1898/99 team was captained by J Allen, and the other players were G Smart, E Allen, A Hoar, H Baker, P Smith, AE Payne, GG Goodwin, WF Payne, C Chester and J Underwood. Mr J Smith was the chairman, Mr S Holmes secretary and Alec Craig was the trainer. Queen’s Works became ambitious and entered the higher circle of the Northants League, although they still maintained their membership of the Northants League. This was in 1900, about the time when Mr Chester ended his playing career and turned his attention to training.

Good referees

“That was the time we had some good referees in the Northants League”, remarked Mr Chester, with a twinkle in his eye. “There was Mr Swain[5], Mr Brightwell[6], Mr Chappell[7], Mr Albert Peters[8], and Mr Coltman[9]. At that time we had in our team players from Wolverton’s Southern League side. Wolverton disbanded and we acquired the services of George Waller, a goalkeeper, George and Harry Edwards, Radford, , Neal and Sammy Penn. We left the Northants League in 1902 and joined the South Eastern League. That was when we had some stirring games with Tottenham Reserves, West Ham Reserves, Brighton and Hove, Watford, Luton Reserves, Hitchin, Grays United, Chesham Generals, Queen’s Park Rangers Reserves and Brentford Reserves. Tottenham sent a very strong team to meet us at Bedford and we beat them by the only goal scored, Freddy Allen being the scorer[10]”. Mr Chester paused, and then remarked with a laugh “They beat us 12-0 in the return match.[11] But we beat Brighton away and drew with them here, and we also beat Queen’s Park Rangers, and took full points against Hitchin. When the Queen’s first began we played on Willmer’s ground in London Road. Then we came to Queen’s Park, then to the cycle track on Kimbolton Road, and eventually back to Queen’s Park”. Like all clubs the Queen’s Works AFC had its ups and downs, and in 1904 it was disbanded.

The Eagles’ beginning

Then came the formation of the Bedford Town AFC as the result of a meeting held in the old YMCA building in Harpur Street. The Committee in 1908 consisted of Mr Prince (chairman), a schoolmaster, Mr Murray Jeffs, Mr Russell Sprague, Mr Dave Wilson, Mr F Farrer and Mr W Dillingham[12]. The Eagles entered the Northants League in 1908 and played their first match at Wolverton. “ We surprised everybody by winning by five goals to three” said Mr Chester, “The second match we lost to Irthlingborough by two goals to one, and then we drew at home with Wolverton at two goals each. [Chester then attempted to recall the team that played at Wolverton in that first match, but made a few errors which the reporter corrected].

“The Eagles played on the London Road ground”, continued Mr Chester, “but when we saw that the gates were not good, several of us put our heads together and tried to get the Queen’s Park ground again. We were successful and Joe Evans, the butcher, let us have the ground.[13] Our reserve team got to the final of the North Beds Charity Cup and met Kempston Rovers. We won 1-0 and Herbert Pearce, our goalkeeper, played the game of his life. The first team went to Peterborough that day and were defeated by 4-3[14]. Things went on and we had our ups and downs, we struck a bad period and we had to call in help. The Committee changed and there were other alterations, and the club eventually changed hands altogether. I kept on and served under Mr Manning, Mr Gurney and Mr Phillips as secretaries. We started to do well, and our headquarters were moved to the Commercial Hotel, kept by Mr Ted Humphreys”.

A successful year

“The most successful year we had before the war was in 1912/13, when we won the Northamptonshire Challenge Cup[15]. Our team included H Brown (captain), F Bird, R Parris, A W Wise, F Smith, R H Chapman, F J Taylor, M Lemmon, H Mardle, J Chamberlain, E Hughes, P Chapman, H Perkins, and J Chapman. Mr J Hobkirk was the Chairman of the Committee and Mr H Osborne the secretary, and the Committee included Messrs F Brighton, W E Taylor, W H Chinn, T Woods, M Evans, T Read, F Humphreys, C Leadbeater, F Watts and Ted Humphreys. I was still the trainer, of course. In 1913/14 we were runners-up in the Northants League. Then came the war. We began in the Northants League again after the war with Mr Osborne as secretary. Mr W E Taylor took over the secretaryship later and for several seasons we were beaten for the League Championship by one or two points. Later Mr S Maynard became secretary and maintained that position with Mr Ted Humphreys as chairman until 1930, when the Club was disbanded[16]. The rest is well known. Mr Spencer and Mr Baker came to the rescue and saved Association football in Bedford. We began the 1930/31 season with seven of the old players and we achieved our ambition of many years by winning the League Championship. It was a fine performance considering the many difficulties encountered”.

Mr Chester paid a glowing tribute to the way the Club is run today. He said that he had served under seven secretaries and he thought Mr Baker was the best and most enthusiastic of them all. The developments and improvements on the ground were a credit to Mr Baker and to the Committee. With regard to the team, he said that there had never been a better spirit among the players, and this was mainly due to the fact that they were all treated alike. They were all keen to win the Championship again this season[17].

Asked which team he considered was the best one he had trained, he promptly replied “The team that won the Northants League. Other teams have nearly got to the top, but they did so”. With regard to individual players’ ability he agreed it would be invidious to make any special selections, but he spoke praisingly of players such as [Harry] Mardle, who went to Luton, Sid Prior, who went to Plymouth Argyle, and Vic Brown, who is playing for Leeds United.

[1] This never seems to have happened.

[2] This seems to be an error. Chester may have played against Rushden Town, who were members of the Midland League at this period, but not Rushden Windmill a club not founded until 1897. Perhaps he was confused because Windmill were members of the Northants League in Bedford’s early seasons.

[3] William Henry Allen (1844-1926), the founder of WH Allen Sons & Co, owners of Queen’s Works.

[4] Contemporary reports simply refer to the “London Road ground”-see “Where did they play?” in Earliest Days-before 1908.

[5] L E Swain (Northampton) became secretary of the Northants League and the Northants FA. He refereed Bedford’s first match in the Northants League in 1908.

[6] E L Brightwell (Rushden)

[7] W F Chappell (Kettering)

[8] From Kettering. He may have been the “Mr Peters from Kettering” engaged as a coach by the old Town club in 1895.

[9] Ebenezer Coltman (Kettering)

[10] This was on 10 January 1903 at Ford End Road-see Bedford Mercury for 16 January, which puts the crowd at 1500, but gave the goal to Adams, Queen’s centre-forward. Spurs’ first team were in the Southern League at the time.

[11] On 2 April 1903-see Bedfordshire Times for 10 April.

[12] See the article on Re)Formation 1908

[13] See The story of the Eyrie, 1908-39

[14] Chester’s memory has failed slightly here, This was on 25 March 1911. The first team lost 2-6 at Stamford.

[15] Actually the Senior Cup,

[16] A bit of an exaggeration, since there was no break in continuity.

[17] …and they did.