Chesterfield academy youngsters have special day thanks to Chelsea legend Petr Cech and former Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jamie Redknapp
Chesterfield’s dream FA Cup tie against Chelsea has helped forge a new link between the two clubs.
The Champions League holders kindly invited youngsters from the Spireites’ academy to their world class Cobham training facility on Saturday ahead of the big match later in the evening.
More than 200 players from Town’s under-8s to under-16s took part in small-sided games and training drills, overseen by Chelsea legend Petr Cech.
It proved to be a great success and it has paved the way for a similar event each year.
"They have offered to make it an annual event where we can go down again,” Spireites chief executive John Croot told the DT.
"It is massive, the opportunity is incredible really.
"It just shows the magic of the FA Cup goes further than just a game.
"It has given an opportunity to our youngsters and coaches that they never thought they would have in their wildest dreams.
"It is inspiring to us as a club. In our own way, we can perhaps look at the way we do things differently in some areas. The research that they have done down there is world class so if we can take a little bit from that away with us then that will be great for us as a club.”
Croot joined the youngsters at Cobham and he was grateful to Cech, whose role at Chelsea now includes maintaining strong links between the academy and the first-team, for his part on the day.
Cech won the Premier League four times, the FA Cup four times, lifted three League Cups, the Champions League once and the Europa League and is Chelsea’s record clean-sheet holder with 228.
The former goalkeeper, who also played for Arsenal, returned to the club in 2019 where he now provides advice on football and performance matters.
Town’s academy coaches went along to Cobham with the youngsters and were able to get advice from some of the best in the business.
"It was overseen by Petr Cech and they really made it special for our youngsters,” Croot explained.
"He showed us around and we had a chat and we were there for a couple of hours.
"He was interacting with the youngsters and having photographs.
"He was interested to hear that we are building a 3G pitch and he gave us a bit of advice about that which was a bit surreal really.
"He was a really nice guy and you could see why the academy suits him because he seemed to have a genuine passion for the youngsters.”
Croot continued: "To go there and see the fantastic facilities that Chelsea have got will be something the youngsters will remember for the rest of their lives.
"It will certainly inspire them.
"They were given some food and then off they went to Stamford Bridge.”
As well as Cech, there was a visit from former Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jamie Redknapp.
"Jamie was fantastic and he deserves a special mention,” Croot said.
"It was absolutely throwing it down and he stood for about 20-25 minutes just having photographs taken with our academy boys.
"It didn’t bother him that he was getting wet.
"I thanked him afterwards and he said ‘I have still not forgotten you’ and I said ‘what do you mean’ and he said ‘scaring me to death in that 4-4 draw at Anfield in 1992’. He remembered that we went 3-0 up in that game.”
Chelsea were very hospitable throughout the day and even opened up the trophy cabinet.
"After the game we went into the lounge and they had lined-up four trophies and one of them was the Champions League trophy,” Croot said.
"It was a bit surreal and again they were fantastic. I asked if my son could have a photograph of the trophy and the guy said they were going to bring them round in a bit so we could hold them.
"We could not have been looked after any better.
“I think it was a great occasion for everybody involved.
"The respect shown to our club by Chelsea was tremendous really.
"The way that our team was looked after on the day, members of our media team, right through the club, every department, was brilliant.”
The day belonged to the 6,000 travelling Town fans who received praise from all quarters for their vocal support.
"The Chelsea fans who I spoke to said they could not believe the amount of supporters we brought,” Croot said. “I said there were twice as many at home who wanted to come but could not get a ticket which astounded them and the noise they made was phenomenal.
"To score in front of our own fans was tremendous.
"I think we deserved a goal.
"They didn’t stop singing from start to finish and the goal was the icing on the cake.”
Overall, it was a day that will live long in the memory.
Croot added: "I would like to think we have helped put Chesterfield on the map a bit. We were on national TV and we did a feature around town with local businesses so hopefully it has given them a lift too. The Crooked Spire was mentioned on pretty much every channel when I turned the TV on on Saturday morning.”
It was a special day in the history of the community trust as well.
Croot laughed: "I never thought it would own the club, never mind play the European champions!”