He makes a living commentating on the richest league in the world, but Martin Tyler also takes a keen interest in football’s less glamorous clubs – and he has been following Chester’s fortunes for more than half a century. As DAVID TRIGGS discovered, the Blues will always be close to the Chester-born broadcaster’s heart.
YOU only have to speak to Martin Tyler for a few minutes to discover he has a photographic memory for all things football.
He reels off accounts of matches from the late 1950s as if they took place yesterday – a remarkable skill which has served him well during his long career as one of the most respected broadcasters in British sport.
His Sky Sports commentaries have been heard by millions of football fans across the globe. But not many of them will know that the man they are listening to was born in Chester – and a special corner of his massive footballing memory bank is filled with recollections of watching the city’s once-proud team.
He remembers his first trip to Sealand Road vividly.
It was December 27, 1958 and Chester, then managed by former Chelsea defender ‘Gentleman’ John Harris, were playing host to Millwall in a Division Four fixture.
A 13-year-old Tyler joined 9,272 other fans in watching a fairly unremarkable 0-0 stalemate – but one incident from that chilly winter’s afternoon still sticks out in his mind.
“I remember a guy stood up in front of me and started to take his belt off to hit somebody!” recalled Tyler. “I thought ‘oh, this is different’.”
Shocked but hooked, he would make plenty of return trips to Sealand Road over the coming years.
“It’s a pocket of my life, but it’s an important pocket,” said the 64-year-old, whose family moved to live in the south of England when he was young. During the school holidays, he would make frequent visits to stay with family in Tattenhall and Christleton, taking in a game at Sealand Road whenever he could.
Tyler became a fan of non-league Woking at an early age – he still supports them to this day – but he used to relish watching Chester in the ‘big time’ Football League.
“It was at that time when I really started to become obsessed with football,” he added.
“We all look back on our childhood with huge nostalgia and going to Sealand Road, that’s what the club was for me.
“It was Chester FC, it was Sealand Road, it was blue and white stripes except for two seasons when they switched to green shirts. That was just bizarre!”
Tyler was born in Chester on September 14, 1945, the son of Alan and Susan (née Jones) Tyler.
Alan, originally from Surrey, met Chester girl Susan while he was serving with the Cheshire Regiment during the Second World War.
Once the conflict was over, the couple married and returned to Alan’s roots in the south when Tyler was only a few months old.
“My passport says ‘born in Chester’ and I’m proud of it,” said the commentator.
During his trips to Chester, Tyler would usually stay at Tattenhall with members of his mother’s family, who owned the Aldersey Arms Hotel.
The Joneses were keen cricketers, playing for Chester Boughton Hall and the Cheshire minor counties team.
Tyler enjoyed being surrounded by the cricket-mad Jones clan, but his first love was – and still is – football.
There were no other takers when he decided he wanted to make his first ever trip to watch Chester back in 1958, so he was given a lift to the ground by his father and watched the match on his own.
As the 1950s rolled into the 1960s, a young striker named Ron Davies quickly became a firm favourite of Tyler’s.
The strapping Holywell-born forward netted 50 goals, most of them headers, in just over 100 appearances for Chester before going on to find greater fame with Luton Town, Southampton, Manchester United and Wales.
“Ron was the player I wanted to be,” said Tyler. “He was fantastic in the air, absolutely fantastic. I followed his career quite closely.
“I’m 6ft 3in, I played Ryman League football as a forward – and he was just everything I wanted to be.”
Tyler, who interviewed Davies for Book of Football when he was a rookie journalist in the early 1970s, has remained in contact with the man he describes as his “all-time hero” ever since.
Now living in New Mexico, Davies has recovered from recent hip replacement surgery, paid for by fans of his former club Southampton.
He spoke recently on the phone with Tyler, and still pays tribute to former Chester manager Bill Lambton for making him train in army boots so that when he put his football boots on he felt light and was so good in the air.
“We all have our heroes,” said Tyler. “Even in the cynical world of football, you’ve still got to have heroes – and mine was Ron.”
Tyler continued watching Chester into the 1960s and he is able to reel off one memory after the next.
Like the time he saw the reserves play Winsford in the snow on Boxing Day 1962, or when he drove all the way from Norwich (where he was at university) with a friend to watch Chester edge past non-league Wigan 2-1 in the FA Cup in December 1965.
“Wigan scored first,” Tyler said. “Then Jimmy Humes and Elfed Morris scored two in a matter of moments and I remember thinking ‘that’s just what Chester do’!”
He also fondly recalls watching the ‘Famous Five’ strike-force who netted an incredible 138 goals between them in the 1964-65 campaign.
“That team was fabulous, but they couldn’t defend to save their lives,” quipped Tyler, who has recently completed a full collection of Chester programmes, home and away, from that goal-laden 64/65 season.
“History is made before your eyes and I knew when I was watching the 1964/65 Chester team that this was historic,” he added. “I knew that it was a golden period.
“That part of Chester’s history shouldn’t be forgotten.”
How sad that the team Tyler once followed with such enthusiasm and passion is now no more.
If the fans get their way, professional football in Chester will continue – and maybe some new chapters in the club’s proud history can be written.