'In the pub until 5am' - Chesterfield's 1997 squad share memories of epic FA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough on 25th anniversary

Members of Chesterfield’s 1997 FA Cup squad have shared their memories of reaching the semi-final on the 25th anniversary of the classic and controversial 3-3 clash against Middlesbrough.

By Liam Norcliffe
Wednesday, 13th April 2022, 10:33 pm

The epic tie is one of the all-time great FA Cup encounters and was described at the time as a ‘match in a million.’

The Old Trafford thriller had absolutely everything, including a sending off, a ‘goal’ that wasn’t given, six goals that were, a comeback and a dramatic extra-time equaliser.

On Wednesday night, exactly 25 years on, members of that Chesterfield squad including Sean Dyche and Jamie Hewitt, who both scored in the game, and manager John Duncan, attended a special commemorative event at the Technique Stadium.

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Sean Dyche celebrates scoring his penalty in the FA Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough at Old Trafford.

The players shared their memories with Spireites fans as the highlights from each round were shown and there was a special tribute to Duncan’s legendary asistant, Kevin Randall, who passed away in 2019, aged 74.

Town saw off Bury in the opening round at Saltergate, edging it 1-0.

Dyche said: “I personally thought Bury was one of the toughest games we had in that run. I don’t know why but that match still lives with me today."

Scarborough and Bristol City then fell the same way as Bury as the well-organised Spireites advanced to the fourth round without conceding a goal.

Next up was a trip to Bolton Wanderers where a young Kevin Davies scored a memorable hat-trick in a 3-2 win.

“Bolton were flying, we did not have massive expectations, after that game you start to believe a little bit,” Dyche said.

Giants Nottingham Forest came undone in the fifth round in another home game and another clean sheet.

Hewitt said: "Just reaching the second round was a cup run for us! It was getting serious after the Forest game. I remember we all gathered in the pub to watch the draw, it was a bit of a downer when we got Wrexham, but then you thought we had half a chance of getting through.”

Duncan added: “We knew Wrexham were a good side but we were at home so we knew we had a chance. We knew we had every chance in every game we played and that is what happened.”

One player who was not available for the Wrexham match was Darren Carr, who was suspended after being sent off in the ‘Battle of Saltergate’ against Plymouth.

Carr said: “I got fined two weeks wages for that!

On missing the quarter-final, he added: “It did not sink in until the draw came out.”

Davies was also sent off and was suspended for the visit of the Red Dragons.

"I remember thinking ‘crikey they are going to miss the big cup match!’,” Duncan said of the sendings off.

Chris Beaumont’s fantastic lob booked Chesterfield’s place in the semi-finals – and a mass pitch invasion at Saltergate followed.

"I think we thoroughly deserved that win, I don’t think I had much to do at all that day,” goalkeeper Billy Mercer said.

And so the scramble for tickets commenced as Chesterfield headed to Old Trafford to take on Premier League Boro.

"Tickets were the prize in town, everyone wanted them,” Spireites chief executive John Croot said, who also told a story about how ‘half a million pounds worth’ of tickets were incredibly left on the steps of Saltergate overnight by a courier before they went on sale the next day.

Croot also recalled being in a pub in the run-up to the final when a fan, who had overheard Duncan and Randall talking tactics in a local Indian restaurant, began to reel off the starting line-up and what their corner routines were going to be!

Dyche was of course heavily involved in the semi-final, scoring his one and only penalty in his career to put Chesterfield 2-0 up before giving away a spot-kick at the other end.

He joked: "It is always nice to have a 100 per cent record! I did not want to take it, I will be honest. There was no bravery, I just thought someone had to take it. I struck it as hard as I could and just smashed it down the middle.”

On fouling Juninho at the other end, Dyche added: “I thought it was harsh, I will say that.”

Duncan revealed that he had lost his own glasses on the day of the game and so he was wearing a spare pair owned by Randall, which iconically fell off his face when Hewitt made it 3-3.

"What a goal it was at the end,” Duncan said. “I think we deserved that equaliser and deserved to win on the day.

"They (Chesterfield’s players) would not give you an inch. They were there to do a job and they did it.”

Hewitt, who joked that not many days go by before someone asks him about his thrilling extra-time equaliser, said: “Everyone was phenomenal that day. That is what we did as a team. We were a good set of lads and very close-knit.

"That coach journey back was very memorable. I think the coach had to stop down Chatsworth Road because there were that many fans. We were in the pub until 5am.”

He added: “25 years, it has gone pretty quickly."