Phil Tooley reviews the Spireites’ year
Following the departure of John Pemberton, the new board had to appoint quickly, but more importantly, get the appointment right.
Paul Cook left after taking the team to the League One play-offs. The rapid decline from then on can be seen by noting the position of the club at the point of each subsequent manager’s departure; Dean Saunders – 16th L1, Danny Wilson – 22nd L1, Gary Caldwell – 23rd L2, Jack Lester – 24th L2, Martin Allen – 22nd NL, John Sheridan – 22nd NL, John Pemberton – 21st NL.
Zero detectable progress on the park from any of the seven permanent managers post-Cook, so ensuring the process was right and ensuring the person was right for the next appointment was more than vital.
Supporters were rightly anxious. What would be different to ensure a five-year series of appointments that didn’t cut the mustard? What would the process be? What experience has the board got in these matters? It was a worrying time for all Spireites.
Step up the likes of Kevin Davies and Lee Turnbull, highly respected Spireites who know a thing or two about the game. Add to their experience, a number of telephone conversations with ex-Chesterfield managers about what was needed. Throw in some meticulous short-listing and a rigorous interview process and out of that methodology came a man few people in Chesterfield had heard of: James Rowe.
A young man without a professional playing pedigree but with an impressive coaching CV. A year in management at the level below that had seen him unpick and rebuild a squad and take them to the summit of National League North, still unbeaten at the time of the interviews. He’d served as an assistant in the National League, twice helping Aldershot Town to the play-offs.
There was no baggage, no failures, no pre-conceived ideas about him. His initial interviews with the press were impressive and the interviews conducted with members of the board concluded that his job interview was much more than impressive, the chairman saying he’d been ‘blown away’ by the new man’s approach. The rigour of the process was welcomed, and the boldness of the appointment was applauded. But the proof of the pudding was yet to come, away at Weymouth.
Within the blink of an eye, his Gloucester City striker Akwase Asante was a Spireite and he started to show his worth on the park as the Spireites, back to a 3-5-2 that hadn’t worked well in the opening ten games of the season, stepped up to the plate and looked extremely good, only to fall behind on 40 minutes against the run of play. But five minutes later Asante scored, all-square at the break, and on the hour, Tom Denton put Chesterfield in front and the lead from then on never looked threatened.
The step up in performance was more than you normally see from a new managerial appointment. There was clearly a whole new thought process and a whole new approach to the game. Press and pass, words ‘Cookie’ shouted from the technical area until he was hoarse, were back in fashion. A tweak here and there saw players that had previously been off the pace had been reinvigorated. At Weymouth we saw what really looked like a new, bright beginning.
Within ten days, four more players had arrived, all of them either free-agents or from clubs below Chesterfield in the pecking order, something new and refreshing and they helped the team to two clean sheets and a win at lofty Sutton United with a performance that was a model of how to win a tricky National League encounter. Follow that up with six against Barnet, and all Spireites’ Christmas presents had come early.
Rowe’s words were being translated into actions, invasion football had arrived and was working. That said, he needs the lads to work on penalties following the shoot-out shocker (though we won) against Brackley Town in the Trophy!
Covid hit the camp to rule out further action in 2020, but for the first time since the team lost at Preston North End, Chesterfield supporters can look forwards with some degree of optimism.
Happy New Year to all Spireites, and so you know, I just think it may be!