In October 2010 Southend United became the 7th club to visit Chesterfield’s brand new B2 Net stadium. The Shrimpers’ recent good form (soon to end!) – as well as the chance to tick off a new ground – meant that a healthy contingent of Southend supporters made the pilgrimage to Derbyshire.
But what of the past? The Spirites’ recently vacated home, the Recreation Ground otherwise known as Saltergate, is still standing just a couple of miles down the road, so a few of us decided to make an early start and pay a final visit to the ground that had been Chesterfield’s home for 139 years.
As you can imagine, in such a long period of time the ground has hosted some great matches as well as serving as a home to a fair few excellent footballers. Indeed, one of my most memorable away trips with Southend came in 2006 when, inspired by a Freddy Eastwood hat trick, the Shrimpers won a topsy-turvy battle against Chesterfield’s brave ten men by the odd goal in seven
In recent years both West Ham United and Manchester City came a cropper at Saltergate in cup-ties. Going back a little further to 1981, Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers were thrashed there by three goals to nil in the Anglo/Scottish cup, a competition that ran for six seasons between 1975 and 1981. Competing clubs came from North and South of the border. Chesterfield went on to win the competition that year with a 2-1 aggregate win over Notts County in the final. As the final winners of the competition the Cup remains with the Spirites to this day!
On the pitch, Chesterfield’s most famous player was undoubtedly goalkeeper Gordon Banks. Although Banks made only 23 appearances for the Spirites (all during the 1958/59 season), he would move up the leagues to make 293 appearances for Leicester City and 194 games for Stoke City. Banks gained 73 England caps including of course the 1966 World Cup finals, where Banks featured in all of the host nation’s matches as they went on to beat West Germany 4-2 in the final.
But for all the goals scored, and despite thousands of fans who have flocked to Saltergate, today the old place lies in dereliction awaiting its fate.
We entered the stadium via a broken down turnstile door. Strangely, from beyond the covered home terrace stood in front of us came a ghostly echo from the pitch the other side. A game between Chesterfield’s legendary spirits of the past perhaps? At closer inspection we were surprised to discover the ground was still being used by local school children as part of the club’s community trust scheme.
The kids are put through their paces by the club’s community officer Andy Morris, a familiar name in these parts. He scored 56 goals in 225 appearances for Chesterfield during a ten-year spell. Affectionately known to the supporters as “Bruno”, Morris joined the club from Rotherham in 1988 for just £500 and a bag of footballs! He became a cult figure thanks to his bustling style. In 1997, Andy Morris and his fellow Spirites became household names when the club reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. Having put out Bury, Scarborough, Bristol City, Bolton Wanderers, Nottingham Forest and Wrexham, Chesterfield faced Premiership Middlesborough at Old Trafford, with a place at Wembley at stake.
Andy Morris takes time out to tell me about his FA Cup goal.
The game turned out to be an epic with Andy Morris having an eventful afternoon. Following a free flowing move down the right flank, the ball arrived at Morris’ feet just a couple of yards from goal. He sent the whole of Chesterfield (and a large percentage of the country) into delirium by firing the third division club into the lead. Soon after Morris looked sure to add to his tally when sent clear on goal. Boro’ goalkeeper Ben Roberts hauled Morris down for a penalty, but amazingly despite the apparent professional foul Roberts wasn’t sent off! Sean Dyche scored from the spot but the Premiership side hit back to lead 3-2. Chesterfield took the game to a replay with a goal in the final minute of extra time from Jamie Hewitt, but further controversy shrouded the game when the Spirites’ Jonathan Howard clearly scored a goal that would have given them a 3-1 lead with only 20 minutes to play. Once again the match officials missed the incident and waved play on. Middlesborough won the replay 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough, and the more romantic football supporters amongst us cried, “Foul!”
Andy Morris still feels bitter about the decisions. Although I tried to soften the blow by explaining they had made FA Cup folk law, he told me they would have rather been remembered as the first Chesterfield team to reach the cup final as opposed to the team that was cruelly robbed!
We made our way around the ground, documenting everything as our cameras busily clicked away: the stand, the uncovered terrace, even the gents toilets! Like the visitors’ terrace, the ‘loos’ have no cover. When the weather was hot the smell used to be awful, and when it bucketed down you could find yourself ankle deep in what can only be described as “acid rain.”
The children finished their coaching session, and Morris agreed to give us a guided tour of the underbelly of the main stand, taking in the board, dressing and boot rooms. It was here that much of the filming for ‘The Damned United’ was shot. The movie somewhat controversially told the story of Brian Clough’s 44-day stint as manager of Leeds United. Saltergate was used as it was believed to look similar to Derby County’s now demolished Baseball ground, where Clough had led the Rams to the football league championship. As we enter the boardroom I was surprised to find the club’s trophies still there, all wrapped in newspaper ready for a move to Chesterfield’s new home. “They’ve not built a trophy cabinet at the new ground!” Morris explained.
The rusty old grandstand.
Before we left, I asked our hero of the hour to sign one of the 71-year-old seats from the main stand. He wrote “Andy Morris - FA Cup semi-final goal scorer” It remains one of my more unusual football artifacts!
Across town at the B2 Net Stadium, Chesterfield and Southend played out an entertaining match with the home side grabbing a late winner mainly thanks to a howling decision from the linesman. Those of us in the visiting stand holler our discontent at the ‘sleepy’ official. The only similarity between today and the Spirites’ cup semi final heartbreak seemingly being that neither the officials, nor for that matter the men in suits who appoint them, really care!
But let’s talk no more about those we choose to curse. This is an ode to Saltergate, for 139 years the home of football in Chesterfield. Sadly, by the time you read this story, memories of Saltergate will be just that, Memories!
Another ground that offered spectators that unique “real” match day experience will have vanished. The more romantic supporters will have lost another footballing church as the modern, somewhat less than beautiful game caters for a new breed of football follower.
Phil Cox and I on the crumbling terraces.
Bad smell or acid rain - The outdoor gents toilet.
Alfie finds the net at Saltergate.