Most people are happy to have one successful career, but Gary Talbot – who celebrates his 80th birthday today – had two.
As a free-scoring centre-forward for Chester FC in the 1960s, he spearheaded the club’s legendary ‘Famous Five’ forward line and was the first player to be inducted into the Blues' Hall of Fame. But he was also a fine press and portrait photographer who travelled the world taking pictures of royalty, presidents, prime ministers and celebrities.
In part one of a two-part interview looking back on his lifetime, Gary tells The Standard about his memories of playing for Chester FC...
Gary Talbot was one of the finest centre-forwards to wear the blue and white shirt of Chester FC, but he was far from your typical professional footballer.
At the age of 24, he was a full-time press photographer working for the Daily Mail.
Although he had been a promising striker in his youth, on the books of Preston North End and hometown club Blackburn Rovers, football was little more than a hobby for him by the time the 1960s dawned.
But when he netted seven goals in a charity match in Blackpool, Gary caught the eye of one of his team-mates that day – former Tangerines player Peter Hauser, who at the time was player/manager of Chester FC.
Hauser was impressed, and wanted to see more of the strapping centre-forward in action.
“We went back to the Imperial Hotel after the game and Peter Hauser said to me ‘why don’t you come down to Chester. If you can score goals like that, I could do with you’,” said Gary.
Gary soon packed his boots and travelled from his home in Blackburn to Chester for a behind-closed-doors friendly against Tranmere Rovers. But there was a problem.
“When I arrived, Peter said ‘I’d forgotten you’re coming’. I’ve already picked the team!’” said Gary. “But Peter said if anyone gets injured, I’ll send you on. So I kept praying for someone to get knocked!”
Eighty minutes in, Gary’s prayers were answered when Elfed Morris picked up an injury and had to leave the field – allowing Gary to go on. He bagged two goals in 10 minutes and was quickly signed up by the Blues.
Gary celebrates with teammates after scoring on his Chester FC debut against Newport in 1963
It was September 1963 and, initially, Gary attempted to juggle his football career with photography.
Chester trained for just two hours a day through the week – from 10am to noon – and this left him free to work into the afternoon and evening for the Mail.
But before long, the strain of doing both became too much – the sheer amount of travelling left Gary drained, as he clocked up 70,000 miles a year as a photographer on top of travelling to training and matches – so something had to give. It was time to make a big call.
“I went to see the art editor at the Mail, Mr Madden,” said Gary. “He said to me ‘you’re down in London next year’. I said ‘no, I’m off to play football for Chester’.
“He looked at me and you could tell he thought I must be mad. But that’s what I did. I handed in my notice.”
With a better work/life balance, Gary continued to fire in the goals for Chester FC. He did not turn his back on photography either, as he went freelance and still picked up plenty of work from newspapers and agencies, which allowed his to set up his own business in Chester.
On the pitch, Gary was by this time the attacking focal point of a prolific forward line which also featured Morris, Micky Metcalf, Jimmy Humes and Hugh Ryden. The quintet’s achievement in the 1964-65 season – when each player scored 20 goals or more – led to them being dubbed the Famous Five and they are now part of club folklore.
Gary staged this picture of the Famous Five at the club's old Sealand Road stadium
Amazingly, Chester scored 141 goals in all competitions that season, with Talbot bagging 37, but a leaky defence proved their undoing as they finished eighth in the old Division Four. But there were some thrilling cup ties along the way.
Chester claimed a pulsating 5-4 League Cup win over Division Two giants Derby County, with Gary netting twice. He went one better in a 5-0 FA Cup demolition of Crewe Alexandra, scoring a hat-trick in just two minutes and 57 seconds – at the time the fastest recorded in the competition’s history.
“It’s just a blur now,” admits Gary when asked about his rapid treble.
Then there was the time the Blues almost claimed a huge scalp when they visited Matt Busby’s mighty Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. They led 1-0 at half-time, but could not hold on and lost 2-1, with George Best and Albert Kinsey scoring for the home side.
United skipper Paddy Crerand recognised Gary from the many times he had photographed games at Old Trafford, and could not believe he was playing against him.
“Bobby Chalrton had the game of his life,” said Gary. “The only time we did tactics was in that game. The manager (Hauser) said at half-time, Micky Metcalf – I want you to come back and help out in defence because Bobby Charlton is running riot. He came back and we lost the momentum.”
But nothing would stop Gary reaching Wembley. At the end of the season, he was dispatched to photograph the Leeds United team at Hendon Hall in the build-up to the final against Liverpool.
He spent the week with Don Revie’s team, and was even allowed to train with them. On the day of the final, which Leeds lost 2-1, Gary was not required to take any pictures so the Leeds players gave him a special pre-match surprise.
“I had the most exiting coach ride of my life,” recalls Gary. “I went down Wembley Way with them, and I felt like I was part of the team because they treated me so well.”
Gary watched the game from the Leeds bench.
Gary - second right (holding camera) - on the pitch before the 1965 FA Cup final
The mid-1960s were a golden time for English football and it is a period fondly remembered by Chester fans of a certain vintage due to the large helpings of entertainment served up by Hauser’s team, though promotion always eluded them.
“We used to go out and just play,” said Gary, who bagged 106 goals in 183 matches for the Blues, across two spells. “We all played for each other. It was an attacking team.
“We used to get beat 5-4 away from home! Peter Hauser and Dave Durie were the half-backs... well, we let a few goals in!
“But it was lovely to play in.”
Gary was courted by other clubs – he turned down the chance to sign for Newcastle United and there was also interest from Aston Villa, Fulham and Port Vale – but by this time he had settled in the Chester area and, with his photography business going well, he had no need to leave the Blues for a bigger team.
He did depart for one season – in 1967-68 when he helped Crewe win promotion from Division Four with a 20-goal haul – but was back with Chester the following campaign to give them another year’s service and finishing as Fourth Division top scorer before retiring in April 1969.
Hanging up his boots allowed Gary to focus fully on photography, but his affection for the Blues and his adopted city has endured.
In 2010, when the club – by then known as Chester City – fell into liquidation and had to be revived by the fans, Gary was one several former players who stepped in and did their bit to help get a new ‘phoenix’ club, Chester FC, off the ground.
There is even a road named after him – Talbot Way – close to Chester’s Swansway Stadium, while he is a life vice-president at the reformed club.
“It really was a great marriage,” he says of his love affair with the club.
It was indeed. And as Gary turns 80 today, there will be plenty of fans ready to raise a toast to him.