Jake Brownless, a student from the University of Derby, was in the press box at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. He gives his take on the National League Promotion Final…
Victory and defeat. Chesterfield had experienced both on the two previous visits to Wembley Stadium. However, neither of these matches were a fight for promotion back to the Football League.
Since being relegated from League Two in 2018, the Blues have fought to return. Finally, a big opportunity arrived. In a fantastic season which saw Paul Cook’s side finish in a spectacular third position, Chesterfield faced one last battle against Notts County.
After 46 league matches and one semi-final each, a final in London was to decide who would join Wrexham in the fourth tier of English football. No fan of the club could be prepared for the emotional rollercoaster they were about to endure.
Three Spireites had been to Wembley before. Jamie Grimes and Joe Quigley sadly tasted defeat with Hereford and Boreham Wood respectively, whilst Ollie Banks successfully earned promotion with Tranmere Rovers in 2019.
However, this was not Banks’ only time playing under the Wembley arch. When the Spireites visited in 2014 for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, with Cook in charge that day, the midfielder was in the starting line-up. Unfortunately, Banks was forced off after 12 minutes and Chesterfield fell short.
Prior to kick off, the Chesterfield fans were in fine voice outside and in the stadium. Over 13,000 made the trip down to London and their superb support could be heard and seen by all.
As the team was led out by Grimes, excitement and nerves were spread across the Chesterfield section of the stadium.
Kick-off was met with a wave of noise, and early Chesterfield dominance boosted morale. This was topped off when a foul by Sam Slocombe on Andrew Dallas gave the Spireites a penalty five minutes in.
When Dallas stepped up with nerves of steel in front of the opposition fans and netted the opener, the Chesterfield support was sent into raptures. Despite being seen as the underdogs, the Spireites were taking the game to County and had got that all-important lead.
Many would have predicted an opener would cause Cook’s side to drop in deep and try to preserve the lead, but the opposite occurred. Chances for a second goal came often, and it was clear Chesterfield would not roll over.
The level of noise in the crowd did not drop as the teams returned for the second 45 minutes. Both fans and players knew they were in for a tough fight to get over the line.
As County started to have decent spells, it was important that Chesterfield held firm and adapted. Banks was introduced by Cook, who had the aim of winning at Wembley this time with the Spireites.
Ten minutes to go. Ten minutes until promotion. The tension was unbearable, yet the fans were still in full voice and inspiring their team to reach the promised land. Cook and co could not ask for better support.
With 87 minutes on the clock – heartbreak. John Bostock’s free-kick could not be kept out by Ross Fitzsimons and Notts County drew level. Yet this was not the time for Chesterfield heads to drop. The supporters made that point clear by once again ushering their team on with a battle cry.
Just like in both semi-finals, it was to be extra time. Thirty minutes to decide the second promoted side or penalties would be required.
Three minutes into extra time, there was a roar from the crowd. Had a County winner arrived like it did in their semi-final against Boreham Wood? No. A beautiful, curling effort by Armando Dobra into the far corner had just put Chesterfield back in the driving seat to the delight of everyone wearing blue in the capital.
Another interval arrived. The final 15 minutes were set to be a dramatic conclusion to a thrilling contest. Once again promotion seemed so close, but the job was not done yet.
Unfortunately, Ruben Rodrigues’ bouncing effort in the 107th minute landed in the net and brought Chesterfield back down to reality once more.
With tiredness starting to kick in as the clock winded down, the Blues aimed to find one more magic moment to turn the tide in their favour.
Neither side could find a winner, and a penalty shoot-out would decide a thrilling game of football. It was to be conducted in front of the Notts County fans following the coin toss.
Misses from Darren Oldaker and Jeff King saw Chesterfield edged out 4-3 on penalties. The fans were left crushed by the cruel defeat. However, there could be an enormous sense of pride. This season has been spectacular, with Cook’s players performing at a brilliant level for large parts of the season.
It was not to be this time, but every Spireite on and off the pitch could have their head held high. The players, the coaching staff and fans were all brilliant in the push that fell just short.
The challenge is there for the Spireites to succeed with their aim of winning promotion next season, with phenomenal fans backing them all the way.