How Chesterfield's extraordinary and unique 2020/2021 season unfolded
The 2020/2021 campaign will be remembered by Chesterfield fans for many reasons.
The summer takeover, Covid, streaming matches, a talented new manager, furlough, cup nightmares and play-off heartbreak. It had it all.
There was misery, excitement and a gut-punching finish.
It was the season the hope returned.
Let’s take a look back at some of the key moments from a unique season...
There were doubts the season would even go ahead because of the coronavirus and concerns over whether clubs would be able to survive financially without fans in stadiums.
Eventually, government funding was secured for the first three months of the campaign.
But while everyone else kicked off on October 3, Chesterfield had to wait three more days after their opening day fixture at Wealdstone was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch!
It was deflating start, Town picked up just six points from their opening six games to leave them 17th.
Luke Rawson’s first two strikes for the club and Tom Denton’s sparkling form with six goals in as many matches were the highlights.
A win on penalties in the FA Cup at Stockport County would soon mean nothing.
News emerged that an administrative error meant that Burnley loanee, Jordan Cropper, had not been registered to play in the FA Cup win at Edgeley Park. The match had to be replayed and Town lost 4-0. You couldn’t write it!
The Spireites continued their knack of conceding late goals in a 3-2 defeat at lowly Altrincham. Manager John Pemberton left by mutual consent the following day.
Worse was to come as managerless Town, leading 2-1 at home Notts County the following week, conceded twice in three minutes of stoppage time. It left them third bottom after nine matches. It was a new low for many fans.
The experienced Tim Flowers and Paul Hurst were linked with the manager’s job but the community trust made a bold move by appointing a relatively unknown man in James Rowe, 37, who was top of the league below with Gloucester City. It was a brave call considering it was their first proper appointment since taking over the club but it proved to be a masterstroke.
Rowe won his opening match 2-1 at Weymouth with his first new signing Akwasi Asante scoring on his debut.
Rowe wasted no time in reshaping his squad, bringing in the likes of Jak McCourt, Tom Whelan, Joel Taylor and George Carline.
Town won 1-0 away at eventual champions Sutton United before hitting Barnet for six with Asante grabbing a treble.
But there was no festive cheer as Covid in the camp caused the cancellation of three Christmas fixtures. It wasn’t long before it happened again.
After just two games of 2021 Covid halted the Spireites’ season for a second time.
Rowe used the break to make some more signings including Alex Whittle, Gavin Gunning and Jack Clarke.
Asante hit a late winner against Wrexham, while they also progressed on penalties in the FA Trophy away at Boston United, young goalkeeper Dylan Wharton the hero on his first-team debut.
At the end of the month the club made national headlines after they placed a number of players on furlough who did not feature in Rowe’s plans.
Covid struck for a third time and Chesterfield had to withdraw from the next round of the FA Trophy because they could not fulfill their fixture against Aldershot Town. It was a season to forget in the cups!
The campaign was cast into doubt when it emerged government funding for the rest of the campaign would come in loans and not grants. A vote was held and clubs decided to continue.
Off the field, the club was back in the national spotlight again after some players and staff members received Covid vaccines at a local media centre. The Spireites faced accusations that they had ‘queue jumped’. An investigation cleared everyone involved.
A 1-0 away win at Notts County was the standout result.
Two excellent performances and wins against Eastleigh and Yeovil Town put Chesterfield up to ninth and just two points off the play-offs in what had been a remarkable turnaround under Rowe.
They ended the month with three successive wins against Barnet, Aldershot and Weymouth which leapfrogged them into the top seven for the first time as they really started to click.
Rowe was rewarded with a new contract until 2024.
The Blues carried on where they left off with two more wins away at Eastleigh and King’s Lynn Town, making it five in a row, to move them up to sixth.
But they then suffered two big injury blows to Haydn Hollis and top scorer Asante, ruling both out for the season and more.
Rowe’s men hit a tricky patch with just one point collected from three successive home games but they managed to stop the slide and ended the month sixth going into the final run-in.
Before the transfer window slammed shut James Montgomery, Manny Oyeleke and Danny Rowe all signed.
May started badly with two straight losses to title contenders Hartlepool United and Torquay United.
Fans made an emotional and memorable return to the Technique Stadium for the first time in 14 months to witness a crucial win against Dagenham which meant victory in the last game of the season away at Halifax would secure a play-off spot.
They did pick up three points at The Shay, Nathan Tyson hitting a late winner, which meant they finished sixth and would play Notts County away in the play-off elimination round. They had achieved nothing but yet they had achieved so much.
The promotion dream ended in late heartbreak at Meadow Lane. Chesterfield led twice but eventually lost 3-2 with the hosts scoring a gut-punching 90th minute winner. Had goalkeeper Montgomery not got injured with the Blues winning 2-1 with 30 minutes remaining, they probably would have won. Gutted. But what an effort.