League Two triumph – ten years on

The Spireites celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their League Two triumph in the first season at the b2net Stadium, now known as the Technique Stadium.

Chesterfield secured the title with a 3-1 win at home to Gillingham on the final day of the season.

Three second-half goals by Danny Whitaker, Jack Lester and Deane Smalley sealed the honour with a five-point gap over second-placed Bury.

Goalkeeper Tommy Lee, who spent nine-and-a-half years in north Derbyshire before retiring in 2017, looks back fondly on the season.

He said: “It was a special time to be at the football club. To be part of a team where almost every week it felt like we were going to win the game, that was really special.

“I think the overriding feeling for me personally was the new stadium. The good feeling around the place, the full stadium and playing in front of fans that were generally chuffed to be in a brand-new stadium watching good football.”

Lee made 51 appearances that season and kept a remarkable 16 clean sheets in one of his best years for the club. He even made the League Two PFA Team of the Year and was named as Fans’ Player of the Year.

However, it wasn’t just the then 25-year-old playing at the peak of his powers, he was surrounded by a team performing week in, week out.

Looing back at the team, Lee said: “It doesn’t happen often. Probably a couple of times in my career.

“I think I was quite fortunate as there was a player in every position that I could trust and who could produce.

“You look at Derek Niven who would bring something different to Jack Lester but were equally as important.

“I think that was credit to the management, John [Sheridan] and Tommy [Wright]. We got good players in the right positions.”

One of the shot stopper’s outstanding teammates was Craig Davies, who signed a one-year contract in the summer of 2010 after leaving Brighton & Hove Albion.

Like Lee, Davies also made the League Two PFA Team of the Year and was also named League Two Player of the Month in October 2010 and March 2011.

The striker amassed 25 goals in 51 games and was half of a deadly strike-force that season with Lester by his side.

“I remember putting the team on my back and carrying them really,” Davies said jokingly. “Seriously, when I look back on playing football, it’s one of the best seasons.

“I know a lot of people talk about a dressing room, but the dressing room that year was fantastic. It was a great year for everyone involved.

“Playing with Jack up front helped a lot. Sometimes you can play with strikers and they can be quite selfish, and they want all the glory for themselves whereas Jack wanted to help me, and he wanted to set chances up for me. He was happy to do that. It was massive.”

Alongside his strike partner Lester, Davies credited manager John Sheridan and assistant manager Tommy Wright for helping him to play to the best of his ability.

“It was nice, I knew I could do it; I just needed that platform and somebody that really believed in me,” he said. “With Shez I had that. I had somebody who really believed in me.

“He kind of let me just do what I was doing. He tried to guide me, but I knew he had that faith in me. When I hadn’t played well, I knew he had that belief in me to win the game. That was massive for me. 

“The assistant, Tommy Wright, helped because he would spend a lot of time off the training ground fetching my balls that went wayward during shooting practice.”

The Spireites were well-known that season for their eye-catching football and high-scoring pedigree.

A 5-0 win over Rotherham United, a 5-5 draw against Crewe Alexandra, a 4-1 win over Stockport County are just some of the memorable games to happen that season.

However, Lee believed that a less memorable victory was the catalyst for the winning mentality that the Chesterfield squad would exude for the rest of the season.

“I’m not too fond of the five-all against Crewe, that wasn’t my favourite,” Lee joked. “The 5-0 against Rotherham was a special game. Full stadium, on Sky Sports as well. A bit of pressure as well and that was an unbelievable performance.

“But for me personally, the game I look back on and realise that we’ve got a chance this season was Gillingham away on a Tuesday night.

“A cold, rainy night. We beat them 2-0 and for me personally that was my favourite game of the season. After that game I thought we’re probably going to win the league this season.”

Davies shared a similar view and credited key wins at the top of the league that gave that Chesterfield side the launch pad to go up.

“In the Shrewsbury game, we showed the league we were a good team. Shrewsbury were near us at the time, towards the top. I feel like that was where we really showed how powerful we were in the league.

“There was also the Aldershot game, the one where we went top. I remember Port Vale leading the way for months because I knew their manager, Micky Adams, and he actually wanted me to go there.

“I remember thinking, ‘did I make the wrong decision’? But the Aldershot game, which was in November, I felt that we were going up and we never came back off top after that,” Davies stated.

After months of leading the way at the top of League Two, the Spireites were finally promoted on Friday, April 22, 2011.

The Blues didn’t even have to kick a ball to clinch promotion as Wycombe Wanderers were held to a goalless draw against Torquay United at Plainmoor.

However, Sheridan’s side couldn’t celebrate as they travelled to the Kassam Stadium 24 hours later and played out a 0-0 draw with Oxford United.

Lee remembered the peculiar weekend, saying: “It was a strange one, a strange situation. We had been up near the top and probably laboured a bit towards the end of the season.

“To get across the line in terms of promotion by not kicking a ball was weird. It didn’t feel like we had achieved anything. We didn’t have a game and the results went our way. We then played Oxford and we drew the game so again it didn’t feel jubilant.

“The fans were obviously pleased and rightly so. We didn’t share that jubilation and excitement until the last game of the season when we finally lifted the trophy.”

For Davies, the feeling of promotion and winning the title became more bittersweet with every passing moment.

“It was my first promotion and I had finished at the club as the top scorer. I had done well personally, and I wanted to top it off with the trophy,” the 35-year-old said.

“I was fortunate enough to do that. It was quite emotional to win the title, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it.

“I’m not really an emotional person, I’m quite bullish, I don’t really let my emotions be seen but that day, if you look at the pictures, I’m not really in many of them.

“I was quite upset because I had worked so hard, and I was just overwhelmed. I remember my family being there, it was an emotional day. It was sad because I knew that was it.

“It was also a great day as well but all together it was a lot for me to take in. That season was really special for me and the club.

“It’s a time that will stick with me forever because it was amazing. Honestly, I can’t thank the people at the club enough. The fans, my teammates that year, they helped so much.

“They helped change the path of my career. I didn’t want to be lurking around in League Two for the rest of my career. I knew, with all due respect, that I was better than that. I want to thank my teammates for pushing me day in, day out.

“The fans were amazing with me and even when I went to Barnsley I still lived in the area. Everyone played a part in getting me to where I wanted to go. They made my time there really special. I’m really grateful for that.”

Lee continued to play a big part in Chesterfield’s trials and tribulations for seven more years before being forced into an early retirement at the age of 31. However, the goalkeeper continues to hold tight the memory of lifting the title.

The current Sheffield United academy goalkeeping coach said: “I remember the final whistle going and it’s a difficult feeling to describe. I was more relieved I suppose because we wanted to win the trophy.

“To do it in front of a full stadium, the first season in the new stadium, it was an unbelievable day and an unbelievable season.”

On the other hand, Davies made the switch to Championship side Barnsley in the summer of 2011 after his contract at the b2net Stadium expired.

However, in the decade since the title win, Davies has continued to keep his eye on the Spireites and hopes that the club can make its way back to the Football League.

He said: “I hope the club get back to where it needs to get to because it’s a great club. It’s an amazing club with some amazing people there.

“I look out for the results; I watch what they are doing. I’ve always done that in the ten years since, I always check out for certain clubs I have played for and Chesterfield are one.

“I just hope the club can return back to the place where it was when I left. Hopefully, they can do that under this manager.”