COLUMN: ‘Can Caldwell match Barlow’s or Duncan’s achievements?’

Gary Caldwell new Chesterfield FC manager
Gary Caldwell new Chesterfield FC manager
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While it is good to see another Scottish manager back in the English game, after Gary Caldwell’s appointment as Chesterfield manager, and albeit outside the top flight where Scottish bosses and players used to rule, the former Scotland international, who spent 18 months as Wigan Athletic boss, will have a hard task rescuing the Derbyshire team from bottom spot in English League One.

Chesterfield are recognised as one of the biggest clubs outside the top two tiers of the English game, but it might surprise many fitba’ fans in Scotland that the greatest day in the club’s history is still regarded by many of their supporters as the day they saw off Rangers in the final season of a now defunct cross-border tournament.

The Texaco Cup of the early 1970s was the first attempt to establish a ‘British Cup’ after much talk about such a tournament becoming a permanent fixture in the football calendar during the 1960’s when Celtic met Liverpool, Morton took on Chelsea [and lost heavily in the Fairs Cup] and Spurs and Wolves played Rangers amongst Scotland v England European club clashes in that decade.

When the petroleum giants pulled the plug on it the competition continued as the Anglo-Scottish Cup which carried onto season 1980/1.

The participation of Rangers in the last Anglo-Scottish Cup did add a bit of prestige to the tournament, although for the club itself the embarrassment of missing out on European qualification hardly made the competition attractive.

The start of the 1980/81 season promised so much though, as the club embarked on a 15 match unbeaten run in the league, but a woeful display in the Anglo-Scottish Cup was just around the corner, which if not immediately ruining the season, certainly planted seeds of doubt regarding John Greig’s squad of the day.

It would be Chesterfield who would face the daunting task of tackling Rangers in the two-legged quarter final in October. Confidence was flowing through manager Frank Barlow’s team though, the side sitting proudly on top of the Third Division table, before the first leg at Ibrox took place.

A few hundred Chesterfield fans made the journey and witnessed a fine performance from their side, Phil Walker putting them in front direct from a corner, and although Rangers equalised through Gordon Dalziel, the tie was intriguingly poised ahead of the second leg at Saltergate.

Faced with the prospect of thousands of Rangers fans making the journey to Derbyshire, club officials and local police forces met in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the type of trouble that had seen a friendly match with Aston Villa abandoned in 1976. Pubs were closed in Chesterfield, alcohol was banned from coaches, supporters’ club trips were instructed to follow given routes into the town, and 500 police were drafted in to cope with the arriving ‘Scottish hoards’ as they were described in the local Derbyshire press.

As an extra measure, John Greig and some of his players met the fans before the match and gave away goodies, in a PR exercise aimed at quelling any potential aggravation. Come the end of the match it would be safe to assume that the 5,000 travelling Rangers fans would not have been quite so welcoming of Greig and his squad.

A crowd of 13,914 watched on as Gers reject Phil Bonnyman came back to haunt his old club, his two goals after 15 and 18 minutes, both from corners by Chesterfield’s first leg scorer Walker, stunning the Scottish Premier Division high-flyers, during a first half in which Chesterfield should have been awarded a penalty for the clearest handball imaginable, and also struck the bar.

When Ernie Moss added a third on 64 minutes, Rangers’ misery was almost complete, and a terrible evening was rounded off aptly when home goalie John Turner saved a McAdam penalty ten minutes later.

“Obviously we thought we could win,” commented Turner the morning after the night before. “I would have settled for 1-0. I’d have settled for no score and win on away goals. I’d have settled to just win the tie, but to win 3-0 is really out of this world.”

Chesterfield FC’s historian with Alex in front of the last Anglo Scottish Cup just to the right of their League 2 promotion play off trophy

Chesterfield went onto win an all English final v Notts County and when I visited Chesterfield’s current Proact Stadium a couple of days ago there it was the last Anglo Scottish Cup [which the club was allowed to keep] still taking pride of place in their trophy cabinet.

The club’s impressive restaurant carries pictures of the glory night v the Gers at the club’s old Saltergate ground and the club’s historian is proud to reel off nearly every detail of the night Rangers were humbled in the quintessential English market town.

Chesterfield commercial manager these days is former Albion Rovers, Sheffield Utd, Chesterfield and Scotland goalie Jim Brown who is one of the 1 cap club having gained his moment of glory in a 1-1 draw in Bucharest v Romania in a failed European Championship Qualifying campaign for the 1976 tournament.

Brown was also sub goalie the day Scotland were humbled 5-1 by England at Wembley in the Home Internationals in 1975 and older readers will remember the curse of Stewart Kennedy who seemed to freeze on the big occasion despite having played in Old Firm matches for Rangers. Caught three times on his right side by goals from Gerry Francis of QPR, Kevin Beattie of Ipswich and Colin Bell of Man City in the first half, the sight of Kennedy clutching the post instead of ball as Beattie’s header looped over him for goal number two is still an iconic nightmare moment for Tartan Army members of the Bay City Rollers generation.

Brown was actually stripped and ready to replace the Gers goalie as he lay prostrate on the turf after England went 2-0 up but Kennedy was deemed fit to carry on before conceding three more goals [David Johnston of Everton and Kevin Keegan of Liverpool netting the second half double for England after a Bruce Rioch penalty for Scotland had made it 3-1 at Half Time].

One wonders what might have happened had the shellshocked Kennedy been replaced by the then Sheffield United goalie Brown preparing to appear for his club side in the top flight of English football in season 1975/6.

Scotsman John Duncan, a prolific scorer for Dundee and Spurs in the 1970s, was a popular manager at Chesterfield for two spells between 1983 and 1987 and 1993 until 2000. Duncan took the blues to an FA Cup semi final which they lost in a replay to eventual beaten finalists Middlesbrough with the first game, a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford, maybe second only to the defeat of Rangers in moments of glory for a club that is maybe no more than a name on Final Score Results for most Scottish fans.

Can Gary Caldwell match the feats Frank Barlow’s class of 1980/1 who saw off one of the biggest clubs in Britain or Duncan’s cup warriors of ’97?

A tough ask for sure.