LESTER: A joy to listen to, a pain in the backside, a man who couldn't take the emotion out of the game
Jack Lester is and always will be a Chesterfield legend.
The sad fact that number 14 was in charge of the first team when the Spireites slipped through the Football League trapdoor will hurt the man but not his legacy as a beloved Chesterfield hero.
On Saturday, Lester was bereft as he trudged across the New Lawn pitch to conduct his post-match media duties.
He barely concealed the raw emotion, the bitter disappointment, the regret and the disbelief he felt at the end of a 4-1 defeat that sealed the club’s fate.
From start to finish in his tenure as Spireites boss, Lester was unable to take the emotion out of it - he often admitted as much.
There was a lump in his throat when he spoke of his pride at managing this club, after the against-the-odds draw at Mansfield Town back in November, when it looked for all the world that he’d done what many had considered impossible and arrested the shameful slump in the club’s fortunes.
A midtable finish would not have been a surprise to anyone who watched Lester’s men go on an unbeaten run and go toe-to-toe with some of League Two’s better sides not long after he took charge.
Sadly it was not to be.
Goalkeeper Tommy Lee was forced into retirement through injury and a succession of stoppers tried and failed to fill the void before Aaron Ramsdale overcame a shaky start and restored some authority and confidence between the sticks.
Veteran defenders Ian Evatt and Sam Hird were both sidelined in an injury crisis that crippled the squad.
The midwinter was bleak and oh so costly for the club.
Lester’s emotions were laid bare again recently, after another Mansfield match, a 1-0 loss on home turf that visibly gutted the manager.
His confrontation with a critical supporter and his terse, almost morose interview revealed a man whose pride had taken a beating, whose disappointment was visceral.
That inability to take the emotion out of the game perhaps brought a loss of temper that in turn led to the abrupt withdrawal of Joe Rowley before half-time in Saturday’s match.
The man-management of a few others who he felt were letting the club down would maybe have been handled differently by someone taking decisions in the cold light of day, without the filter of emotion, pride and passion for Chesterfield FC.
Leaving Giles Coke on the pitch for 84 minutes in his first competitive game for two years, some of the January signings, some of the substitutions, formations or the length of time it took to change things in certain matches - all decisions that are up for debate in the post mortem of his reign.
He might have been perfect in fans’ eyes as a player, but he wasn’t the perfect manager. There’s no such thing.
It’s no surprise that a rookie boss made mistakes and had his every move second guessed by pundits and fans alike.
What is not in question is his character.
In what I now know was my final encounter with Lester the Chesterfield gaffer, he shook my hand, looked me in the eye for a second, apologised and walked away.
Sorry seems to have been the hardest word to come by at the Proact in recent years, despite all manner of failings, yet here was a man who only arrived in October, at a club already in terminal decline, apologising quite unnecessarily to a journalist.
Lester was a joy to listen to in some pre-match press conferences, holding court on psychology, coaching, work ethic and standards.
He got it. The club, the beauty of this game and what it means to people in this part of the world.
Relentlessly positive, almost to a fault, obsessive in his quest for improvement, both for himself and those around him, and unflinching in his expectation of excellence in attitude and application.
He was a pain in the backside in post-match interviews when his side had lost, giving us journalists very little to work with, straight batting and giving short shrift to questions - but would fans want their manager any other way?
He loathed defeat. ‘Disgusting’ was his word for the feeling he had after a loss. That’s what made him a winner as a player.
The job may well have been too big for him.
It was - as Ashley Carson said just minutes after sacking Gary Caldwell - a job for an experienced operator.
It was not for lack of trying that Lester was unable to turn the ship around. He wasn’t just here for a wage or to further his career aspirations, he wanted to save this club.
Some of the blame lies with the outgoing manager and his staff, but not all, not even most of it.
A losing culture and acceptance of the below par have become the norm.
Rot has set in.
This club’s problems do not follow Lester out the door.
Whether or not Chesterfield bounce back depends on so much, there are some monumental months ahead.
But Lester will bounce back.
In his own words, you learn more from adversity than you do from success.
He was maybe the right man at the wrong time for Chesterfield FC.
Even his biggest critics in the Spireites fanbase will harbour hopes that he will be the right man at the right time wherever he finds work next.