We all like to hear about how someone has defied the odds to achieve success.
And that is how I will look back on Alex Whittle’s time at Chesterfield.
‘Great energy’ and ‘strong character’ were used to describe the type of player the Spireites were getting – and they could not have been more accurate. We soon got to realise why Danny Webb called him a ‘little soldier’ in one interview.
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His signing on a free transfer from Gloucester City in January 2021 came just one month after Town had paid a fee for another left-back, Joel Taylor, from Chester. At a time when the club also had David Buchanan and Tyler Denton in the building, the reaction from many was ‘why do we need another left-back?’
But it soon became apparent why he had been brought in and, as we know, he would go on to make that left wing-back spot his own, leading Taylor to leave just six months later to join Notts County.
Then in came more competition for his starting place in Calvin Miller, a player who had tore George Carline inside out in the play-offs at Meadow Lane. That’s Whitts’ days numbered, we all thought, but we could not have been more wrong.
Initially, yes, that looked like being the case as Whittle was not named in the squad for four of the first five matchdays of this season. He was in and out of the side until he started on the left of a back three at Dagenham and Redbridge in October and impressed hugely.
Seven successive 90-minute displays followed, including a beautiful first goal of the season away at Solihull Moors where he played a couple of one-twos before giving the keeper the eyes and sending him the wrong way with a reverse finish.
After those seven games he was harshly left out of the starting XI at Barnet in December. With the score goalless at half-time, he came on and changed the game in Town’s favour, setting up an opener for Kabongo Tshimanga on the way to a 4-1 win.
Then there was Chelsea away. With Chesterfield 4-0 down to the then Champions League holders at Stamford Bridge, Whittle was shifted to right wing-back to stop blink-and-you’ll-miss-him winger Callum Hudson-Odoi, who had caused major problems with his blistering pace and quick feet, from cutting inside on his right. He stood up to the challenge incredibly well and received plenty of plaudits.
The 29-year-old scored in both of Paul Cook’s first matches in charge at Weymouth and Solihull, both after late bursting runs into the box.
His fourth and final goal in a Town shirt came at Notts County, finishing off a lovely passing move on his right peg.
He played in every league game except one under Cook, before making one substitute appearance in the play-offs. After such a consistent season, chipping in with four goals and two assists and being a strong contender for Chesterfield’s Player of the Year, he was absolutely gutted not to start in the semi-final last Sunday.
The Liverpool-born man departs having made 61 appearances, scoring five goals. He will probably go down as one of the club’s best modern day free transfers, and you can’t help but feel it is a mistake letting him go.