Spireites v Boro 20th anniversary: ‘It was a sea of blue and white - it was unbelievable’

Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.
Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.

Jamie Hewitt says the sea of blue and white that greeted the team coach at Old Trafford ahead of Chesterfield’s FA Cup semi-final with Middlesbrough is a sight which will live long in his memory.

The former Spireite, who racked up more than 500 appearances during two spells with the club, and his team-mates were taken away from the town to a training base in the build-up to the tie at Old Trafford.

The move by then manager John Duncan was to focus the players’ minds on the task at hand while excitement steadily grew back in the town - a tactic which had worked the previous May for the Division Three play-off final at Wembley.

The only team in between the Spireites and Wembley this time was Premier League side Middlesbrough and Hewitt said seeing the fans out in force gave the squad that extra belief they could upset the odds.

He said: “There was a lot of experience in the team. I wouldn’t say we were an old team but we were getting towards the late 20s. A few players were a bit younger and we had that blend.

“Being away definitely got our minds that little bit more focused on the job at hand. We knew it was a massive game. We knew how it was all building up in the town. But we had a job to do.

“No-one gave us a chance and we wanted to give a good account of ourselves. We knew a lot of people would be watching live on telly and so we were away for a couple of days.

“We listened to the other semi-final on the bus on our way to the ground. When we turned into Old Trafford it is a memory that will live with me as long as I live. It was a sea of blue and white, it was unbelievable.

“As you see the ground at the end of the road, the streets were decked out in blue and white. It was an amazing scene that got the hairs on the back of your neck stood up. It was one of those moments. It was amazing.

“I don’t think I saw one Middlesbrough fan. It was all blue and white. It was like ‘wow, let’s give it a good shot’.”

And added: “There were so many coaches. I don’t know where they got all the coaches from! They must have sourced some from all over the UK.

“Apparently there were ‘good luck’ banners all down Chatsworth Road and it was convoy after convoy going over Stockport way to Old Trafford. The few people left in the town said it was a ghost town.”

The team had travelled up to Old Trafford the week before to familiarise themselves with their surroundings, scout out which dressing room they were in and have a walk on the pitch.

But nothing could prepare them for the reception they received from the travelling faithful.

“We didn’t want to come to a brand new ground on the day,” said Hewitt. “We wanted to be prepared. When the day arrived we went out to the pitch an hour and a half before kick off and there were loads of Chesterfield fans in the ground then.

“It was amazing. It was another moment when I thought ‘wow’. When we walked out for kick-off it was something else to see 50,000 fans there and three sides of the ground blue and white.

“We had no idea when it was full. The noise levels were amazing and the blue and white scenes have stuck with me to this day. It was amazing.”