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Old 9th March 2010, 21:57   #1
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Default United Captains - Allenby Chilton

Allenby Chilton

“Which player did Manchester United sign from Liverpool, and then after making his first team debut, had to wait a more than six years before he played in the first team again?” It is a trivia question that is often asked during football quizzes and for the most part, has Manchester United fans scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Allenby Chilton was born on September 16, 1918 in the Sunderland suburb of South Hylton. He certainly did not come into a world, and into a Britain that was a “land fit for heroes” as Prime Minister David Lloyd George had promised during his General Election campaign earlier that year. After the Great War of 1914-18 ended, the country was plunged into massive unemployment which caused hunger and despair to be prevalent facts of life. The North East of England was particularly hit with hardship.

It was an austere time for a family to survive, but survive they did and the Chilton family was no different than any other in South Hylton. Like most kids, Allenby’s energies were spent on the sporting front. Sprinting, boxing, and playing football. As he grew his abilities in the boxing ring and out on the football pitch improved significantly. On the football front e began playing at centre half for Ford School as a nine year-old. By the time that he was fourteen he was deemed to good enough to represent the Sunderland Boys team – but not at centre half! As Allenby recalled in an interview with Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly magazine in April 1955;

“The centre half berth was more than adequately covered, but I was considered worthy of inclusion in another defensive position – full-back. In the Sunderland Boys team at that time, about eight of us were actually centre-halves with our schools teams. As displaced centre-halves, we were lucky to step into positions where there happened to be a shortage of talent. Even the goalkeeper for Sunderland Boys was a centre half for his school at Boldon Colliery. He was Ray Middleton who wnet on to be a star ‘keeper with Derby County and Chesterfield.”

By the time he was fourteen, he had joined the Hylton Colliery Juniors team which was for boys between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. However, the young Chilton was also an accomplished amateur boxer for his age, and there was a period of some six months where he didn’t play football at all and concentrated on his pugilistic ambitions. It would have been easy for him to be lost to the game but the people who ran the soccer team at Hylton were able to persuade him to return to playing football on a regular basis.

On reaching the age of sixteen, Chilton moved to the Seaham Colliery club and they played in the tough Wearside League. It was a league littered with ex-professional players and it was here that he gained invaluable experience playing against, and alongside, many of these players who had years of experience playing in the Football League. His game improved and progressed immensely and it wasn’t long before he was the colliery’s first choice centre half. It was also no coincidence that scouts from the Football League clubs were noticed watching Seaham’s games.

It seems strange that given the abundance of top class clubs in the North East, his club would arrange for him to have trials at Liverpool. It has been said in the past that Liverpool actually turned him down but that is far from the truth. He did play as an amateur in the Liverpool ‘A’ team but at that particular time he was certainly not enthusiastic over the prospect of living in the Liverpool area, and was not too inclined to leave his home in the North East.

George Kay, who was the then the Liverpool manager, saw what a good prospect the 20 year old Geordie was, and tried on several occasions to get Chilton to sign as a professional. After a Central League game at Preston, Kay made one last effort with the young Geordie, but was once again rebuffed. Also watching that game on that day was Manchester United’s assistant manager Louis Rocca. He too saw the potential in the lanky Liverpool centre half. A few days later he made contact with Chilton and talked to him about joining Manchester United as a professional. Whatever he said did the trick for Chilton agreed to sign for the Manchester club if Rocca could get Liverpool to release him from the amateur forms that he had signed with Liverpool. This was done without any fuss and in the November of 1938, Allenby Chilton began a career at Old Trafford.At this particular time both Walter Crikmer, and Rocca, were sharing the managerial role at Manchester United. United had just been promoted back into the First Division after spending the 1937/38 season in the Second Division.

Chilton’s Old Trafford career began in the Reserves in the Central League. He was understudy to the first team centre half, George Vose, who, after joining United from Everton in 1932, had been first choice in the ensuing six years. United cemented their position in the top flight that 1938/39 season by finishing in 14th position. However, war clouds were gathering once again throughout Europe and this was a big fear with the British people. However, this fear did not prevent the football season beginning on Saturday 26th August 1940 and United beat Grimsby Town at Old Trafford by the emphatic score line of 4-0, and two of the scorers in that game were a young Johnny Carey and Stan Pearson. The following Wednesday saw United in London to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. George Vose was unfortunately injured in this game and the following Saturday, 2nd September 1939, United played against Charlton Athletic at the Valley and Allenby Chilton made his first team debut for the Club in a game that was lost by 2-0.

Sadly, the following day, Great Britain declared war on Germany. The Football League season was abandoned after just three games and the results expunged from the records. For this reason, appearances made, and goals scored in those three league matches have never contributed to a player’s appearance or goals scored record. For the young 22 years old Chilton, it was to be a little over six years later before he played in a first class match for Manchester United again.

Like most of his footballing contemporaries he enlisted and for him he chose service with his County Regiment, the Durham Light Infantry. He was initially stationed at Thetford in Norfolk, and it was whilst he was there that he contacted Jimmy Seed who was Charlton Athletic’s manager and asked if he could “guest” for the club whenever his duties made him available. Seed was more than happy to find a place in his team for Chilton and it began a happy association with the two parties that lasted through the war time years. Although he also “guested” for other clubs during those years, he predominantly gave his services to Charlton and with them won a winner’s medal in a War Time Cup Final at Wembley when Charlton beat Chelsea by 3-1 in front of 85,000 people. In 1944 Chilton saw active service with his Regiment and took part in the Normandy landings, and was wounded (albeit not too seriously) in the Battle for Caen just a few days later.

When the War ended in 1945, he returned to Old Trafford at the age of 27 to continue his football career. The big change he saw upon that return was that Matt Busby had taken over as manager. Totally different than how things had been pre-war; Busby was the first of the “track suit managers” and loved nothing more than to be out on the training ground with his players. He played his first official competitive match since his debut at Charlton in 1939, on 5th January 1946 at Peel Park, Accrington, in an FA Cup 3rd round match that ended in a 2-2 draw. Slowly but surely the senior players had returned back from the War and there was a more than useful team in the making. Jack Crompton was now in goal, Johnny Carey was at full back, and had also been made the Club Captain. Jack Rowley, Stan Pearson, Charlie Mitten and Henry Cockburn were there and Jimmy Delaney had been brought south of the border from Glasgow Celtic for a very modest fee. Later in the season saw both John Aston, Johnny Morris return and as the season unfolded, United seemed to get stronger and embrace Busby’s style of attacking football.
As the 1946/47 season drew to its climax in May, four teams, United, Wolves, Stoke City and Liverpool, were all in with a shout of winning the Championship. It ended up with Liverpool pipping the other three by 1 point on the final day of the season with United finishing runners-up on goal difference.

United were prolific scorers in their home games that season scoring 61 goals and conceding just 19 in 21 games. 17 were won, 3 drawn and just 1 lost. Away from home it was a different matter and it was their away form which cost them the title. They won just 5 games away from Old Trafford but drew 9 and lost 7, scoring 34 goals but conceding 35. It was a bitter disappointment for them. There were a lot of strong characters in the United dressing room and there was a steely resolve to try and rectify the matter the following season. It turned out to be a struggle as by the turn of the year into 1948, United were lying in 5th position in the League some 9 points behind Arsenal.

Johnny Morris the former United inside forward used to tell an old story about Allenby Chilton that relates to that part of that particular season. “Because of the poor start, Matt (Busby) called a special meeting with the players one Friday morning. He called us all into the dressing room instead of training and said "We can't go on like this. We've got to sort it out. What are we going to do about it?" So Allen Chilton says to Matt, "You sit in the corner and be quiet, and we'll sort it out". In the team talk, Chilly got onto one or two players - I won't mention names - but he told them, "If I was picking the team, I'd leave you in t'bath!" Allen was like that. Next day we were playing at Wolves, who were near the top of the league and we beat them 6-2. That's when we knew we had a good side. Of course, Matt got all the credit".

The second half of the season though was a much different matter. They hit a rich vein of consistency and although they eventually missed out on the League Championship again, and had to settle for finishing runners-up once more, they more than atoned for that disappointment by reaching the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. The third round tie at Villa Park against Aston Villa was extraordinary. Villa kicked off, and within 13 seconds of the game starting United were a goal down and not one of their players had touched the ball! By half time however, United were 5-1 in the lead. The second half saw a spirited Villa fight back and they reduced the deficit to 4-5 before Stan pearson made the game safe late on to make the final score Villa 4 United 6. On the road to Wembley United had to meet top First Division opponents in every round, also defeating Liverpool, Preston, Charlton, and Derby along the way.

The Final at Wembley is often, (even today in the 21st Cnetury) described as a classic of a football match. United’s opponents were Blackpool. It was a feast of attacking play from both sides, and that doyen of reporters, Geoffrey Green, remembers it thus:

“Blackpool have recognised Chilton as the possible weak link in the Manchester chain. Obviously (he) is going to be hammered at every posible moment….” And so it turned out.

United, playing in royal blue, were under early pressure. "After only a quarter of an hour, Manchester had their first real shock when Mortensen, gathering a long pass down the middle, swept past Chilton. Mortensen was just clear when a despairing tackle from behind by the centre-half brought him down. The referee .... decided it was inside the penalty area and Shimwell duly shot past Crompton".

In fact, photographic evidence (frame by frame stills from Movietone News - the day's equivalent of a slow motion replay) shows quite clearly that the foul took place well outside the area, the first contact being made in the D, and Mortensen's momentum only taking him over the edge of the area as he fell. Another example of what Busby called Chilton's "shocking luck".

After half an hour, United levelled. Carey fed Delaney, who lifted the ball forward. Two Blackpool defenders left the ball to each other and Rowley slipped between them to score.

Within five minutes, Blackpool were ahead again. A Matthews free kick to Kelly, a pass to Mortensen and a cross-shot past the keeper. And so it stayed until half-time. United had pressure but nothing was coming of it. "Their putts on the green had failed to drop", as The Times expressed it.

Trailing at half-time, United decided to change their approach for the second half and be more aggressive. Busby's customary instruction was "Keep playing the football - it's bound to come out right".

But for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, United looked more confused than ever. "For a period after half-time the fire and precision had gone out of the Manchester game; they lost touch and inspiration clearly now eluded them. With twenty minutes to go, however, Morris prepared to take a free-kick gained to the right of the Blackpool penalty area .... A moment later the ball lay snug at the bottom of the Blackpool net, headed there like a flash by Rowley, who timed his advance perfectly.... United were level".

Blackpool were by no means finished. "Chilton, who spent a thoroughly anxious and uncomfortable afternoon, took one more unnecessary liberty with Mortensen, lost the ball and there was Mortensen streaking through an open Manchester defence. It looked odds on a goal and Mortensen's shot was hard and true for the far corner. But Crompton saved brilliantly at full-length." Stan Mortensen had to wait on his winner's medal, although he did manage to score in every round of the competition.

Geoffrey Green's report continues, "That, if anything, was surely the turning point, for within seconds Manchester had their noses in front for the first time with a piercing thrust at the other end by Pearson. There was no stopping them. The gentle breeze had now become a strong and friendly wind, and Manchester sailed home with an astonishing outburst of brilliance."

Anderson added United's fourth with a shot from thirty yards (and always regretted that his was the goal the Pathe news cameras did not catch). Despite all the hammering and his "anxious and uncomfortable afternoon", Chilton came away with his medal, and Mortensen and Stanley Matthews had to wait another 5 years for theirs.

It was Chilton’s first major honour for United. The following three season’s United once again finished up as runners-up twice in the First Division and once in 4th position. It seemed as though they were never destined to win the First Division Championship. In 1948/49 they finished runners-up to Portsmouth by 5 points, in 1949/50 they finished 4th 3 points behind Portsmouth again, who retained their Champions status, and in 1950/51, were runners up to Arthur Rowe’s Tottenham Hotspur team who finished 4 points in front. In 1950 Chilton’s consistency for United brought him to the attention of the England selectors and he won the first of his two caps when he was selected to play against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast on October 7th, a game which England won by 4-1. he had to wait another year almost before he got that second cap when he played for England against France at Highbury in London on October 3rd 1951. Although the game was drawn 2-2, Allenby Chilton had a real ‘shocker” and was run ragged by the French centre-forward Grummelon. He was never selected by England again after that performance.

Things were starting to happen Old Trafford that were going unnoticed as the new decade started. Busby and Jimmy Murphy had sowed the seeds of a youth plan when they took over the reins at Old Trafford in 1945. By 1950/51, the signs were there that some of the youngsters were starting to emerge as first team contenders. However, in 1951/52, United were to win the First Division Championship for the first time in 41 years and for only the third time in the Club’s history. Crompton, Carey, Aston, Chilton, Cockburn, Rowley, Pearson and Mitten, were still the mainstay of the team, but players like Roger Byrne, Billy Redman, Don Gibson, Tom McNulty, and Jeff Whitefoot had started to come through. Johnny Berry had been signed from Birmingham City and Johnnie Downie from Bradford Park Avenue so the team had started to get younger.

Chilton’s consistency was unbelievable and he made it so difficult for Busby to leave him out of the team. He was an “iron man” – the epitome of the solid “stopper” centre half. Waiting in the wings to displace him was a young giant of a Yorkshireman, Mark Jones, a former England schoolboy international. In 1953 Carey finally retired and Stan pearson took over the Club captaincy. But the 1952/53 season was the start of a few seasons of transition for the team. Names like Pegg, Edwards, Viollet, and Blanchflower started to appear, plus Tommy Taylor was bought from Barnsley. All young players who by standards back then, were playing in the First Division “before their time”.

In the autumn of 1953, Stan Pearson had an illness and the club captaincy was passed over to Allenby Chilton. Chilton was a very strong character and a strict disciplinarian and there was a reason why Busby gave the big Geordie the captaincy. With so much youth and precociousness about, he knew that Chilton would keep the young boy’s feet firmly on the ground. Chilton wasn’t aversed to using the back of his hand to make a point known! Out on the field, players like himself, Jack Rowley and Henry Cockburn (who could all look after them selves and could mix it with the best) were able to “mind” the younger players that were coming through. They made sure that opponents didn’t take liberties with the kids in the team. These three players could see what the future of Manchester United was going to be like, and they did an invaluable job for the manager in that they were able to help school these youngsters in the right way.

In October of 1953, Cockburn was injured in a friendly match up in Scotland and was replaced by Duncan Edwards. He was never to play first team football again for Manchester United. For Chilton and Rowley, season 1954/55 was to be their last at Old Trafford as time finally caught up with them. Busby had tremendous replacements for them in Mark Jones and David Pegg. Both of them were now ready for regular first team football. On February 19 1955, United met Manchester City in an FA Cup Fourth Round tie at Maine Road, and United lost by 2-0. Chilton was sent of mid-way through the second half of the game for using foul and abusive language towards the referee. From the stands, it looked as though he had been sent off for a badly timed tackle, but the referee confirmed after the game was over that he was sent off for swearing at him. Chilton vehemently denied this and said that his words were directed at the City player. For Rowley, it was his last first team game for the club that he had served so well. The following week, United were beaten 2-4 at Wolves, and that game also turned out to be Chilton’s last for United. He would have been suspended after the Wolves game, but mark Jones came in and it was inevitable that the lovable Yorkshireman would keep his place from then on. There was a bright new era dawning at Old Trafford.

It is amazing to look at Chilton’s record with Manchester United. Nothwithstanding the fact that he lost almost seven years of his career to the War, he still managed to amass some 391 appearances and in a period of 9 years, he missed just 13 games. Chilton was so highly thought of not only by both Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy, but by team mates and fans alike.

Chilton remained a key figure in the side for the nine seasons from 1945 to 1954. Reading the match reports now, it's sometimes hard to see why, but most reporters have never been one for the defenders (although Carey is often described as "elegant", Chilton seems to have been more on the "no-nonsense" side of the equation ). The fact that Busby kept picking Chilton year after year is its own eloquent record.

Busby himself said, "In fairness, it should be pointed out that there was a certain amount of evidence to endorse the belief in a Chilton weakness, but that was due more to Chilton's shocking luck than to poor play on his part. In those early years, Allen had to endure more than most players would tolerate. It seemed that whenever he made a mistake, the ball landed in the United net almost immediately.

"Such a depressing period could not last indefinitely, and I am glad Chilton proved himself strong enough to survive abuse from so many quarters ... emerging as one of my most consistent United servants."

Jimmy Murphy described Chilton as a "strong, fearless, hard-tackling, orthodox stopper" and paid him the compliment, when picking his "best United XI of the last twenty years" in 1968 (after the European Cup victory) of choosing him at centre-half in preference to Bill Foulkes, with the comment "a shade taller than Foulkes and for that reason slightly more commanding in the air". And Chilton made Busby's "dream team" as well, picked around the same time (almost identical to Murphy, incidentally, except preferring Roger Byrne to Tony Dunne and Charlie Mitten to Jack Rowley).

Charlie Mitten remembered that famous FA Cup tie in 1948 against Villa, where Villa were given a free kick near goal and United formed the customary wall. Dickie Dorset was to take it, something of a Gorgeous Gus, a player known for a cannonball shot. Mitten said, "I'll always remember Allenby Chilton, Henry Cockburn, Johnny Carey and all the boys lining up as Dorset took a tremendous run up and hit one of his cannonballs - straight into the net. There was only Chilton left standing - everybody else had "melted"."

After leaving United, Chilton went to Blundell Park as Player/manager of Grimsby Town. He retired from playing for Grimsby in October 1956 (63 league games) but continued as manager until April 1959, when he retired from the game, ostensibly to become a publican in York. Within a month, however, he had noticed the vacant manager's job at Wigan and decided to go back into football.

Chilton managed Wigan Athletic for less than a full season (1960-61) and was sacked after 27 games in charge (of which Latics lost only 5). He remained in the game a little longer, first as a scout (1961-62) and then manager (1962-1963) with Hartlepool United. His first match with Hartlepool as manager was against Newport on 18 August 1962, his last against Gillingham on 1 April 1963. The managerial record was not that impressive ( P35 W5 D7 L23).

Chilton died on 15 June 1996 in Southwick, aged 77.
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