Kristian Dennis' whirlwind journey from Greater Manchester football backwaters to League One club's top scorer
A lot can change in a year, especially in the life of a professional footballer and for Chesterfield's eminently likeable frontman Kristian Dennis, that has certainly been the case.
Dennis’ whirlwind year has taken him from a job as an archive administrator, playing part-time football ‘in front of literally nobody’, to coolly slotting home a penalty in front of 30,000 fans, in the Spireites’ final game of a disappointing season, at Bramall Lane.
“Before the game Steve Eyre (Chesterfield coach) said to me, ‘It’s a bit different to Mossely this isn’t it?’ And as soon as Reece went down I got the ball as quickly as I could,” said Dennis.
“I would usually wait for the keeper to make a move, luckily he dived quite early and I just rolled it in.
“In the moment I didn’t feel any pressure, but looking back, there was quite a lot really.”
That penalty took the Wythenshawe-born striker’s goal tally to 10 and secured him the top goalscorer gong at the end of season awards night.
It’s an award he says he would swap in a heartbeat, if given the chance: “I would let somebody else be top scorer if it meant we stayed up.”
But, even with the relegation still fresh in his and everybody’s mind, nobody can begrudge the 27-year-old of the accolade – his willingness to run the channels and chase lost causes was matched only by his keenness to put pen to paper for the Spireites, as soon as he heard there was interest from North Derbyshire.
“I was in the South of France with my girlfriend Rebecca, I didn’t have my phone so my agent rang her at 4pm saying, ‘Chesterfield want to sign Kristian, tell him to get home,” he said, remembering the moment.
“I got the half seven flight to Munich, then to Manchester and I was in Chesterfield for nine in the morning, so I definitely took the long way round.
“I was buzzing to have signed the contract.
“We went and sat in the Tesco and waited for it to be announced on twitter and all the social media sites, my phone just got bombarded.
“I was so happy.”
Dennis’ 3,000 mile round trip from Vallauris, on the French Riviera, to Chesterfield, via a pit-stop in Germany, was just another leg on a footballing journey that has seen him ply his trade at Macclesfield Town, Stockport County, Woodley Sports, Mossely, Ashton United and Curzon Ashton.
Those spells, at some of Greater Manchester’s footballing backwaters, were littered with goals and gave him the grounding, experience and just the right temperament to make the adjustment back into League football.
“I wasn’t kidding myself I was going to play every week when I arrived because of the players that were already here, like Sylvan (Ebanks-Blake), Ched (Evans) and Jayo (Jay O’Shea),” he said.
“I knew it would be hard to get in at the start of the season.
“I had no complaints because when we started we were top of the league, Ched was on fire, the whole team were, and I couldn’t really do anything.
“I just had to bide my time.
“The team went through a bit of a sticky patch and Danny Wilson put me in, I scored a few in my first few games and didn’t really look back.”
Dennis’ first goal for the Spireites came in the Checkatrade Trophy, against Wolverhampton Wanderers, but it was his first league goal, in the 3-1 win over Northampton Town, that he describes – in typical goal-poacher fashion – as his most meaningful.
“Obviously, the Wolves one was good, but to get your first league goal, that’s even better, that’s where it really matters.
“It was a bit of a controversial one, Dion shot, everybody thought it was his goal, they announced it as his goal, but it was mine, I definitely finished it.”
Despite topping the scoring charts, forcing his way in to the team under Wilson and keeping his place under new manager Gary Caldwell – who says his striker continues to impress him with each performance – Dennis is realistic in his evaluation of his maiden season at the Proact.
“If you would’ve offered me top goalscorer at the start of the season I would’ve snapped your hands off, with the likes of Ched and Sylvan at the club,” he said.
“I wasn’t expecting to play as much, considering it was my first season back in the League, so I was more than happy to be top scorer and play the amount I did.
“But we’ve been relegated, it’s disappointing to say the least.”
As for next season, Dennis’ enthusiasm and desire to build on the solid start he has made to his Chesterfield career is clear and he sees no reason why the Spireites can’t bounce back at the first attempt.
“I’m going to have a few weeks off and then I’m going to start training again on my own before we go back for pre season,” he said.
“My first aim is to get in the team again.
“I think we will do well.
“I think we will be up there.
“The manager will have a full pre-season with us, bringing in the players that he wants to and he’ll be able to implement his style on us from the first day we are in, hopefully we’ll be up there to try and get automatic promotion.”
He added: “I know if I’m in the team I’ll get chances and I know I’ll take them.”
Dennis’ journey has had its ups and downs and it’s hard not to root for the curly-mopped Mancunian.
His pragmatism, confidence and laid-back demeanour are admirable, and no more apparent than when he reflects on his manic year in professional football.
“Back then, I was playing in front of nobody.
“Travelling all over, working part time, going to training after work, it was hard, but it’s all worked out.”
He concluded: “Training and playing football for a living, there is literally nothing better is there?”
The striker hopes his journey over the next 365 days has a final destination that sees him and Chesterfield climbing the Football League ladder once again.
Few will argue it’s the least he deserves.