The relocation of Chesterfield Panthers to Dunston Road was a key chapter in its thriving 100-year history, says the club’s president Graham Bell.
Its move in 2012 to the new site and construction of a £1.8m facility has strengthened the club’s place in the heart of the community - beyond the pitch markings on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.
The club now boasts three senior men’s sides, a ladies’ side, girls teams, mini and junior sides from under-7s to under-17s as well as catering for the three-to-seven age range with the Panthers Cubs.
All of whom use the ground through the week to train and play at the weekend.
The community sports pitches are home to Espial Football Club while corporate use has increased alongside the facility’s functionality.
“Dunston Road has played a massive part in the club’s growth,” said Graham.
“We’ve got a facility now which is the envy of a lot of clubs across the midlands. It’s well used and well used by not just the players but in the wider community.
“We’ve got three football pitches, we hold corporate events in the clubhouse and there’s a lot going on through the week. It’s well used and that makes the playing for the younger members affordable. Twenty-three acres takes a lot of looking after.”
Graham was chair of the relocation committee and could see the benefits the move from Stonegravels would provide.
He has been involved with the club for 30 years after his eldest son expressed an interest in playing rugby. His second son duly followed and he now has three grandchildren playing and one son coaching.
“The move opened the doors and opened the eyes to a lot of people,” he said.
“In the first couple of seasons at the new ground we built a squad and a team that won a lot and went on to get promotion and did really well. When young men go off to university or they move for other reasons you have to start again.
“When I look at the team this year, I think we’ve brought in seven young men who have come right through the club’s coaching, right into the first team, and they have performed extremely well.
“It makes you very proud that you’ve helped to create a situation where players can develop and enjoy the game.”
And added: “It’s lovely to see the dozens and dozens of children get so much out of it.
“The community aspect of the club is thriving.
“The ladies section was formed 25 years ago, for example. There’s a ladies team. We’ve got girls playing, girls rugby is taking off in Chesterfield, and we’ve now got 30 girls training and playing.”
All of which point to the club’s progress from its origins when sports enthusiasts met at the Portland Hotel to put plans into action for a rugby club in the town a century ago.
There wasn’t a shirt, pair of boots, or a ball between them - nor a rugby field to play on.
Things got a little better from there when they were granted permission to change in the stables at the Terminus Hotel and cleaned down afterwards in two halves of a beer cask.
Burton-on-Trent provided the first opposition for the then-named Chesterfield and District Rugby Football Club on 6th March 1920 at Blackwell, with the Brewers winning 14-3.
While facilities, names, locations and personnel have changed over time - even having to play in red shirts through the war years due to rationing - the club has remained.
And is going from strength-to-strength.
“The future looks extremely good,” said Graham. “The club is financially stable - that’s a great thing to start with.
“We’ve got a sustainable situation and can deliver the best we can.
“We’ve got really good coaches and bringing really good coaches through the system. Teams are growing and the quality of players are continuing.
“Players aren’t going so far away to university and work so they are staying around and giving continuity to the club.”
All of which wouldn’t be possible without the legions of volunteers.
“It just wouldn’t be possible to do all of this without our wonderful volunteers,” added Graham.
“If we had to pay everyone to do the work then we wouldn’t be able to operate the way we do and make it affordable for people to use. We want young people to enjoy the sport, enjoy exercising and enjoy the game.”
Chesterfield kick off their centenary celebrations on Saturday 6th July (6.30pm) with a dinner, dance and evening entertainment at their Dunston Road home.
At the evening the club will reveal a roll of honour listing 100 names who have contributed to the legacy of the club for its 100th year.
The scroll has been erected at the club and includes the names of the founding members, as well as many more influential figures in the club’s history.
There will also be a music event at the club and a centenary raffle on Saturday 13th July.
While an exhibition detailing the club’s history will be on show at Chesterfield Museum from October to January.