Chesterfield fanzine editor Craig Thomas looks back on an astonishing season for his club
Before this year the only chance of Chesterfield playing in a cup semi final at Old Trafford would have been if the Auto Windscreens Shield matches were being staged at big grounds. For until this golden year Chesterfield have the worst FA Cup record of any professional club bar none: no Third Round appearance since 1981, no Fourth Round since 1954, no Fifth Round since 1950. Aside from that the only memories are grim ones, of limp exits at the hands of questionably competent opponents.
Strangely the media failed to pick up on this, opting instead for the usual ‘romance of the Cup/dreaming Spireites’ headlines as we shocked our own town (never mind gaping sports fans across the nation) with deserved wins away at Bolton and Forest.
The Beeb did a Semi Final preview piece on us which went beyond self-parody: silly girls debasing fair enough terrace songs and giggling in the town square, Town fans embarrassingly quoting their predictions ‘3-0 Chesterfield, 3-1 Chesterfield, 28-0 Chesterfield’, and Gerald Sinstadt trying to believe that there might be one person in the audience who cares that a baker in the town has produced gingerbread men with blue and white icing.
Still, I suppose there’s a case for saying that we should be grateful for any coverage, being as Boutros Boutros Ghali is normally more likely to get a mention on Football Focus than Chesterfield. But one of the strange things about the cup run is how quickly you get used to new situations. Usually, a two line story in the Sun about Tottenham looking at starlet Kevin Davies has me snipping it for the scrapbook with the tongue-out concentration of a heart transplant surgeon. By the time we got to Old Trafford we had become blasé about in-depth articles in the Times.
And there’s the shameful fact that I got fed up with the phone ringing the whole time. On the afternoon the Grand National was run, I got home from work to find two guys from the Daily Express sipping tea in the front room cheering on their bets. I always thought I wanted to be famous but it all got on my nerves very quickly.
It wasn’t just getting stick from a few Chesterfield fans for continuing to criticise John Duncan for long-ball obscenity (I still think he should be done for bringing the game into disrepute) or nearly being garrotted on Radio Five Live just before the Wrexham game by being asked whether the cup run proved that I’d been wrong about the manager. It was dealing with people who know nothing more about Chesterfield than they do about Inter Cardiff. Or asking me what I knew about a Ravanelli t-shirt which showed the great man kneeling over with a crooked spire sticking out of his tradesman’s entrance.
Ultimately, though, the hot blower was a testimony to the influence of fanzines. I might have got it wrong about Duncan but at least I watch the team 40-50 times a season and the media have, in the main, woken up to the fact that investigating relatively obscure clubs must needs talking to fans instead of boardroom dullards.
Waking up the day after the 3-3 draw to a banquet of blue and white on the front and back pages almost brought a tear to the eye, and to see the face of Jamie Hewitt, a true journeyman, plastered all over the place after ten years of being the butt of the fans was mesmerising.
But for all that, you can’t replace the real thing with great pictures. To be there to experience Sean Dyche – a Town player for seven years – leading the team out in front of 50,000 after seeing him dragging his weary frame around Halifax and Rochdale, brought a sense of pride in my team to a level of intensity I didn’t know existed.
The top level of football that we all hope our teams will one day reach might be tainted with excess, and would surely strain to keep the likes of us out, but to get a taste of it all was mighty good while it lasted. And the sight of Juninho, that little genius, in a gorgeous bright blue and white Chesterfield shirt on television is something I will never forget.
From WSC 124 June 1997. What was happening this month