Phil Tooley reviews the Spireites’ year (Part 1)
The year of 2020 will go down in history for reasons pandemic rather than for its sporting memories. However, for all things Spireites, it has been an incredible 12 months both on and off the pitch.
Clearly a year of two halves, it began under the ownership of Dave Allen and the stewardship of John Sheridan and ended with the Community Trust and James Rowe in those two vital posts.
New Year’s Day, Solihull away, and former Spireite Jake Beesley bagged a brace in a 3-0 defeat that was Sheridan’s final game in charge. Martin Allen had departed a little over a year early after a 4-0 home loss against the Moors; let’s get a conspiracy theory going about this year’s Boxing Day trip to Birmingham Airport being postponed!
With Chesterfield third-bottom, five points off guaranteed safety (at that point, we still didn’t know if three of four teams would go down as a result of Bury’s demise), former youth team coach and caretaker post Allen, John Pemberton, was again put in temporary charge and again he more than steadied the ship. A nervy 1-0 win at home to Sutton United and then a solid 2-0 win at Eastleigh followed and we were lifted to fourth bottom, level on points with Dagenham & Redbridge who sat just above the dotted line.
A home draw with relegation rivals AFC Fylde was followed by a disappointing 3-0 defeat at Notts County, for whom Ross Fitzsimons played a blinder after being called back from a Spireites loan spell, which meant there was again an unpalatable points gap, making the following match, at home to fellow strugglers Wrexham, a huge event.
Twice the Red Dragons led, only to be pegged back and with a draw looking certain and a point looking like not being enough, up popped Curtis Weston to fire home a last gasper to revive hopes of avoiding another relegation. That goal felt huge at the time and it proved to be.
With Coronavirus starting to creep into the news, the more newsworthy Storm Dennis meant that the Spireites’ proposed match at Yeovil Town was postponed, allowing Ebbsfleet United to make ground as they beat all-but-doomed Chorley 1-0.
At 0-0, early in the second half at home to Ebbsfleet United, on came Nathan Tyson, replacing Mike Fondop, and within 25 minutes he’d become the first ever Spireites sub to bag a hat-trick ahead of another Weston last-minute goal in a memorable 4-0 win. That put us seven points above the bottom three and by that time, although we all felt that only three would drop through the trapdoor, catching Maidenhead and Dagenham & Redbridge, a point ahead and both of them with a game in hand and better goal differences, was still the target.
Another blank Saturday as Harrogate Town were in the FA Trophy, but the Yorkshire side were in town the following Tuesday and a superb match stood at 3-3 in the last minute before a Jack Muldoon goal dented our survival hopes.
It made the game at Victory Park, Chorley, four days later, a genuine ‘must-win’ contest. Tom Denton and Jordan Cropper opened up a 2-0 lead, but a Connor Hall goal made for an anxious final 15 minutes, but we earned the three points and the win lifted us to fifth bottom, two points ahead of Maidenhead, both having played 37 games. At last, safety looked on, that win was vital.
With postponements galore in the wake of Covid-19, there were no fixtures in the Premier or EFL on Saturday, March 14, but half-a-dozen games in the National League took place including our 1-1 draw at Dover, the playing of which was blasted by Pemberton post-match. Maidenhead lost 2-1 at home to Stockport, meaning at the inevitable halt of football, we were sixth bottom, having gone ahead of Wrexham, who had a game in hand, by one point.
If the season was ended, we were outside the bottom four. If football continued, we were in a run of form, with Pemberton having overseen a record of P9 W5 D2 L2 GD +5 PTS 17 and if points-per-game was used, we’d be fifth bottom and safe.
Weeks of what ifs and what if nots happened before it was decided to end the National League season on a point-per-game basis, meaning Pemberton had turned around the season really well, prevented the team from slipping into tier six and all but nailed on a permanent appointment for 2020/21. With a worldwide pandemic gripping us all, it was a major relief for all Chesterfield FC supporters.
The one thing that needed resolving was the ownership, which had seemed to be moving in the direction of the Chesterfield FC Community Trust in the spring, but Covid changed all of that. It may have been only one thing, but this was no ordinary thing and it looked like being scuppered by a virus.