Leaving home

Craig Thomas explains why some Chesterfield fans are dismayed by the club's decision to move to a new site

When you’ve dragged yourself to Edgar Street, Springfield Park and the like on Tuesday nights for five years and seen your beloveds regularly stuffed at Rochdale, simply winning promotion to Division Two becomes your Holy Grail. Since last May at Wembley, when Chesterfield elbowed their way past Bury, it’s been broad, sunlit uplands all the way with the team pursuing a play-off place for the second successive season. But good results on the pitch have been mirrored by disaster off it: the chairman wants a ground move.

J Norton Lea (real name, apparently) is your typical non-nonsense aging millionaire authoritarian who wants to sign off with what he thinks is an achievement of historic significance, a move to a “21st century, luxury site which will guarantee the club’s future”. What he means is “we’ll be over-looking a big Tesco’s on the by-pass in a breeze-block nightmare with my name on the main stand”. We’re moving to a dog track.

I love the ancestral home and would rather cut my nuts off than leave, so all this is pretty galling, as you can imagine. But what has really depressed and annoyed me since the scheme has been up and running is the local flagship paper’s attitude. The Derbyshire Evening Times have allowed Lea to make a number of excuses and left inaccurate statements completely unchallenged.

First we heard that development of our Compton Street stand was supposedly costed at £2 million, yet Lincoln City’s splendidly lower division large pitch-side stand cost only £975,000, most of which was paid by the Football Trust; we’ve been told that we have to go because we need to have 4,000 more seats by 1998 (so why not build a new stand?); more recently it’s been said that after grants have been made it will still cost over £2 million to renovate Saltergate, but it would be far less if the club got the council to help, fought as hard for funding as they have for the new ground, or if the chairman decided to put some of his considerable fortune into the club.

We’ve also had the ‘write in and tell us what we should call the new stadium’ routine which went on for weeks, culminating in the revolting headline, ‘Name The Stadium after Blues Boss Norton’

The writer of the suggestion was misquoted, apparently, which, for quality local news reporting, sits nicely alongside the convenient sidelining of letters from readers of the fanzine, Crooked Spireite, suggesting we stay at Saltergate, the lack of any attempt to get a quote from a ‘stayer’ whenever the issue was covered and a complete refusal to address the subject in a fair, balanced way. (A series of consciousness-raising articles in the Crooked Spireite got us nowhere. The first anti-move letter appeared in the Derbyshire Times a week after an editorial on the subject in the CS. Underneath the letter the sports editor claimed that the “other side of the argument” hadn’t had any coverage because there was no campaign to stay at Saltergate.)

Last summer, drawings of the new stadium were unveiled by the Nottingham architects, Dykes Naylor. It all looked very smart and spruce and go-ahead and a lot of CFC neutrals were, I’m certain, bought off by the proposals, convinced, albeit reluctantly, that this was the only way forward for the club. Perhaps the little drawings of trees in the car park did it, or the curved roof design of the stands (“like Huddersfield”, we were told).

Several months later, a Mr Patterson of Dykes Naylor was quoted extensively in the Derbyshire Times, warning the fans that the July sketches were only a representation of what the new ground “could look like”. Am I a terminal cynic, or has Lea been dangling the promise, with the DT’s help, of an all-paid-for, state-of the-art new mansion to buy off opinion before a ‘Stay at Saltergate’ campaign could get underway?

The whole episode has been thoroughly depressing. Bad enough that over 125 years of history is about to be torn to shreds for a Barratt Home; sickening that the local rag, with at least as long a history, has sold the fans down the river to keep its place in the press box and its access to club info (Fixture Log Jam was one enticing backpage headline recently); worst of all that many folk in the town have been persuaded by the power of black propaganda. The ethics of the Eighties have still got us by the gonads and the club is literally going to the dogs. Woof bloody woof.

From WSC 113 July 1996. What was happening this month