“That time we took on the champions of Europe”

Taylor Toney-Green, a sports journalism student at the University of Derby, joined the Chesterfield media team in the press box at Stamford Bridge. He gives his thoughts on the day which will go down in Spireites folklore as “that time we took on the champions of Europe”.

The 1997 FA Cup final that never was finally took place as nearly 6,000 Spireites made the three-hour trip to the home of the European champions, Chelsea.

Unsurprisingly, the gulf in class saw Thomas Tuchel’s side take a 5-0 lead before Akwasi Asante tapped home in front of a jubilant sea of spirited Spireites. Forget the scoreline, this was a day for Chesterfield to cherish.

For many, it started just before midday with the long trip down to the capital. It was Chesterfield’s first meeting with a Premier League side in the FA Cup since the unforgettable semi-final contest with Middlesbrough.

Some of those who opted for the Tube found residency in the Courtfield pub, soaking up the once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere. The gaffer, James Rowe, was the first to go out and greet the travelling fans, gracefully accepting his first of many hailings at the Shed End.

The players soon made their way out to rapturous applause. Scott Loach was no stranger to the Stamford Bridge turf having played there for Watford in 2005. However, for one man, his return to the Bridge was long-awaited.

Manny Oyeleke’s last visit was as a Chelsea ball boy when he was on their books from the age nine to 14. Now, at 29 years old, he finally turned out on the Stamford Bridge pitch, battling it out with the likes of Timo Werner, Mateo Kovacic and Romelu Lukaku.

As a club, Chesterfield have played at Stamford Bridge on four occasions. Most recently a 3-0 defeat in 1950 with the hosts playing in the unfamiliar colours of Fulham as the two blues clashed. History would not repeat itself as the Spireites donned red for the special occasion.

With the heroes of ’97 on their minds and an opportunity to greet them in the Chesterfield pantheon of greats, Kabongo Tshimanga got us underway.

The ‘not-so-famous’ CFC soon raced into a lead and ended the first-half with a four-goal cushion. Callum Hudson-Odoi’s strike was the pick of the bunch, curling one into the bottom corner. Keeping with the spirit that Rowe and co have instilled at the club, the National League leaders’ effort never faltered.

A moment that will live long in the memory of every Spireite came with ten minutes remaining. Tshimanga latched onto a flicked header and worked the space for a strike at Marcus Bettinelli. With the ball bouncing back off the Chelsea keeper, Asante gobbled up the opportunity to send the Shed End into a state of unbridled euphoria. 

When the final whistle sounded and Chelsea earned their passage to the FA Cup fourth round for a record 24thtime, it was the 6,000 Blues that were making all the noise. All of the playing and coaching staff were serenaded like returning war heroes and so they were with the battle they had gone through.

Another frame has been stitched onto the tapestry of Chesterfield FC as the club continues to motion forward with the work of Rowe, his staff, players, the Trust and the relentless support of the fans. 

Sandwiched between the two sold-out tiers of Spireites, read: ‘The Pride of London’ but it was Chesterfield who left London the proudest of them all.