16 March ~ There is every chance that Chesterfield will return to League One at the end of a successful 2010-11 season. The club has a ten-point lead over closest rivals Bury and that looks healthy even allowing for the games in hand of most of the chasing teams. However, long-suffering fans will take nothing for granted after the club looked odds-on for the title in 2000-01 only to suffer a nine-point penalty as they fell into administration. Happily, the club’s fate this season will be decided on the pitch rather than in an accountant’s office. Chesterfield now represent something of a “new model” for lower-league clubs.

Their brush with administration came after a disastrous spell under the ownership of Darren Brown who, as the Guardian’s David Conn put it, “emptied the club of cash and drove it to the edge of ruin in a few hair-raising months”. Brown was eventually sentenced to four years in prison. The Football League described the case as a “landmark” in that it moved them, finally, to establish a fit and proper person test for club owners. For many, the League’s “landmark” was as much hubris as fact: under the new rule Brown would, in all probability, still have been able to take over the club and wreak his havoc.

A more substantial landmark was the supporters’ role in leading the club out of administration. The Chesterfield Football Supporters’ Society (CFSS), newly formed in 2001, bought a 78 per cent holding for a little over £6,000. Over the next 18 months, with the help of local businessmen and the neighbourhood lottery winner, it was able to move the club’s finances along significantly, and through participation in the board to play a major role in the club’s redirection.

Survival remained a problematic and the club faced challenges common to many in the lower divisions: an ageing stadium, crowds below break-even level and a shortage of cash. The club’s ground, Saltergate, had a reasonable claim to be the oldest football ground still in use, and despite investment and hard work by CFSS it remained an unsatisfactory base. Average attendances had ebbed away from a decade high just short of 5,000 in 2004-05 to under 4,000 in 2010.

A significant part of the club’s re-emergence is the investment of a new majority shareholder, casino entrepreneur Dave Allen. Although it’s worth recognising that Allen is less popular at Sheffield Wednesday, who he has recently left, his investment was a key to securing funding from the Football Foundation and the East Midlands Development Agency to build a new 10,000-seat stadium. A further part of the new model has been the club’s ability to secure a long-term title sponsor for the ground. B2net, an IT company, has the naming rights for the next 11 years, maintaining a longer-term relationship with the club.

On the pitch the relatively new management team lead by John Sheridan has built what looks like a promotion-winning side. Allen’s investment has been almost exclusively in the stadium development and so Sheridan has taken the well trodden path of bringing together cast-offs, loan signings and players with a point to prove, perhaps typified by serial underachiever, but now leading scorer, Craig Davies. There are plenty of clubs looking enviously at Chesterfield’s success: new ground, successful team, apparently stable finances and increasing attendances (60 per cent up on last season). Not bad for a club characterised in 2005 as having a history of “serious uneventfulness”. Brian Simpson

Comments (8)
Comment by ecwoodhouse 2011-03-16 11:27:20

A common misconception about Chesterfield's points deduction in the 00-01 season is that they would have won the league had the points not been deducted. This is untrue. Brighton, the eventual winners of the title, would have won the league in any case, an achievement confirmed by a 1-0 victory over Chesterfield in one of the final games of that season.

I am pleased to see them doing well now. They have a new ground that looks far nicer than the flat-pack efforts that are becoming all the more common nowadays. They also have some likable players: Jack Lester has always been a good pro; Danny Whitaker has often looked like he could make it at a higher level; and Craig Davies, an ex-Seagull, is a talented striker who works his nuts off. Hope they seal the title.

Comment by Gangster Octopus 2011-03-16 12:42:48

"However, long-suffering fans will take nothing for granted after the club looked odds-on for the title in 2000-01 only to suffer a nine-point penalty as they fell into administration."

Wheren't those points deducted for making illegal payments?

Comment by llannerch 2011-03-16 21:34:07

@ecwoodhouse - "and Craig Davies, an ex-Seagull, is a talented striker who works his nuts off"

As a Wales fan I, and no doubt the fans of his numerous pre-Chesterfield clubs, would be stunned to hear he has ever broken into a sweat, let alone runs his nuts off

Comment by iaind69 2011-03-16 22:28:11

The points deduction was indeed due to breaches to league rules, the admin coming later as the CFSS began to realize the scale of debt that Darren Brown had left behind.

The fact that we are here now at all, let alone in a new ground, and on the verge of promotion is astonishing in itself.

Oh, and Craig Davies is indeed running his nuts off for us - 21 goals & counting. He came to us with a certain reputation, but has been fantastic for us.

Comment by born toulouse 2011-03-17 10:57:58

Although I still feel some bitterness about the points deduction being rigged to let you go up anyway (I'm a Hartlepool fan) the way Chesterfield have recovered is very impressive. How much control does Allen have though? Are the fans still central to running the club or was everybody happy to pass it on to what seems to be a decent owner?

Comment by iaind69 2011-03-17 19:32:46

Allen, while not involved in the day to day running, is the head honcho & certainly seems to have instilled the whole club with a sense of purpose & ambition far beyond anything the club have experienced before. I realize that he's not popular at "big club" Wednesday, but he's going down a storm with us.

The CFSS handed over control a few years ago, I think realizing that they could keep the club ticking over but not take it forward.

Apologies for not having more points deducted, but trust me, we suffered as a club for the sins of that season for several years after!

Comment by andrewcwalters 2011-03-19 19:01:25

@ecwoodhouse: It's clear in the 00-01 season the uncertainty around the club affected the Chesterfield team and us supporters enormously towards the end of the season. When the announcement was made that we were to be docked 9 points, on 12/4/2001, we were 4 points clear at the top, with Brighton second with a game in hand. The 1-0 loss at Brighton was played at the beginning of May 2001, the week that the punishment was confirmed. Incidentally, just a draw in that game would have still meant that we would have won the league if the points hadn't been deducted. So the common conception that we would have won the league without the 9 point deduction is well-founded.

Although of course if the dodgy financial business hadn't gone on the first place, which allowed us to buy players we couldn't really afford, we probably wouldn't have done so well that season in any case... :)

Comment by drew_whitworth 2011-03-27 13:56:47

Sorry, @andrewcwalters, but you can't say that some event like that was what caused a team to lose the league over a whole season. Simple fact: Brighton finished more than 9 points ahead of Chesterfield. Chesterfield's points deduction did _not_ cause them to lose the title to Brighton.

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