FAN COLUMN: Time for a revival of fortunes at Chesterfield after a difficult few years
Young Chesterfield supporter Liam Coles, 15, charts the demise of the Spireites in recent years as they now aim for a revival under new boss John Sheridan:
When many people think of Chesterfield FC they think of the famous 1997 FA Cup semi-final in which the Spireites managed to hold Middlesbrough to an enthralling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford.
They probably don’t think of a side sat in the lower reaches of the Vanarama National league, fighting its third successive relegation battle in three years when in the not so distant past they were on the verge of qualification to the Championship for the first time in their history.
So how? That is the question on the lips of every Chesterfield fan.
It all started when Chesterfield moved from Saltergate, the epitome of a lower league stadium, to the then B2Net stadium. The club was on a high after beating Bournemouth 2-1 due to a 90th minute Derek Niven winner but what followed was the first incident in a long line of mistakes that led to the club being in the state it is now.
The new stadium, despite being an instant improvement on the old Saltergate, plummeted the club into £10 million of debt, a situation that still eats away at the club to this day. However, it wasn’t all that bad to begin with.
Under the management of John Sheridan, in his first spell as boss, Chesterfield finished the 2010/11 season as League Two champions and were promoted to League One for the first time in five years.
The 2011/12 season saw the Spireites relegated back to the English fourth tier, finishing 24th, but the club managed to seal a piece of silverware when they famously beat Swindon 2-0 at Wembley in the Football League Trophy, the sort of win that the Spireites faithful would kill for at this current moment in time.
The next season didn’t start well though and Sheridan left the club after three defeats in the opening three games of the 2012/13 campaign.
Chesterfield then turned to the now Wigan boss Paul Cook. He transformed Chesterfield into an exciting team to watch as they played fast-paced, attacking, free-flowing football and he managed to guide the team to an eighth-place finish, three points outside the play-offs.
In his first full season in charge, Cook strengthened incredibly well, bringing in the likes of Jimmy Ryan, Sam Morsy, Gary Roberts and Eoin Doyle. With his new recruits and new style of football, Cook guided Chesterfield to the League Two title, which they clinched on the last day of the season, beating Fleetwood 2-1 at the Proact Stadium.
Spireites fans were in heaven and believe it or not it got better. Chesterfield over-achieved immensely in League One and managed to clinch a play-off place. For the first time in the club’s history it looked like Dave Allen’s ambitions of reaching the Championship were achievable and Chesterfield had the English second tier in their sights.
The Spireites lost in the play-offs to Preston North End, 4-0 over two legs, and not soon after that Chesterfield fans' worst fears were realised.
On the 12th May 2015, a mere two days after the second leg of the Preston tie, the club announced the departure of manager Cook to Portsmouth after the board failed to give him sufficient funds for the next season.
What followed was a downward spiral beyond the imagination of any football fan.
Key players followed Cook to Portsmouth and Dean Saunders was brought in to fulfil the ambitions of both the fans and the football club. It’s fair to say he failed miserably.
He was sacked after only seven months in charge, with the club sat in 16th place and having registered just eight wins in 23 games, which converted to a win percentage of 35 per cent.
Brought in to try and save the club was ex-player Danny Wilson. He did the job he was brought in to do and kept the club in England’s third tier, recording a 7-1 victory against Shrewsbury in the process.
The next season started brilliantly for the Spireites and they were top of the league three games into the campaign. However, it all came tumbling down and Wilson was fired on January 8 after a 2-0 defeat to Bradford. Gary Caldwell was the man who replaced him.
Caldwell brought in many new faces, the majority on loan due to the financial situation at the club, but the Scot couldn’t keep the Spireites in League One and Town finished bottom of the table.
The Spireites were back in the fourth tier, a division that they were comfortable with and optimism was high for the season ahead.
The fans were to be left disappointed. Caldwell won just two games (three overall in his spell at Chesterfield) and was sacked, boasting a win percentage of just 10 per cent.
So, who do you bring in to save a club who are caught up in a nightmarish avalanche? A man with no managerial experience whatsoever, apparently.
Jack Lester, a club legend, was brought in to do the almost impossible and save Chesterfield from back-to-back relegations and unsurprisingly he failed. The man that lived and breathed the club was brought to tears after a 4-2 defeat to Forest Green which resulted in his resignation and the confirmation of the club’s relegation from the Football League for the first time in 97 years.
Martin Allen was the man recruited in to stop the rot and bring Chesterfield back into the football league. He brought the feel-good factor back to the town and the team had a cracking pre-season, playing well throughout and dominating a good Wigan side, despite only drawing 1-1.
The team won their first three games of the season and it seemed a certainty that the club would be challenging for the title that season.
They then, out of nowhere, fell apart. The team went on a 21-game winless run and the man they call 'Mad Dog' was discombobulated. He didn’t know what to do and constantly switched his tactics, playing more direct after the signing of Tom Denton, a 6ft 7in target man.
Allen eventually lost his job after the Spireites were humiliated 4-0 on Boxing Day by Solihull Moors and the Spireites fans encroached onto the pitch in a protest against the running of the club.
The next managerial appointment had to be the right one, and with Sheridan returning the pressure will be on him to achieve where others failed. Otherwise it could be curtains.