Once upon a time, we went arm-in-arm with Chesterfield into League One. Luckily, we then let go – not taking their path down
Photo: "Sean Dyche's penalty against Middlesbrough in the 1997 FA Cup semi-final" by Ben Sutherland is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Once upon a time, we went arm-in-arm with Chesterfield into League One. The Spireites dazzled all before them on their way the 2010-1 League Two title. Us, as mere mortals, could only honour them by following humbly in the playoffs. Luckily, though, we then unlinked our arms and let go; watching the Spireites not once, but twice, tumbling out of sight. Football League stalwarts back in years gone by, what became of the Derbyshire side. And how did we stack up as opponents?

Who are Chesterfield Football Club?

The Spireites are one of those clubs who have a back story that goes back a little longer if you’re prepared to suspend a certain level of disbelief. There is chat to suggest that it’s a tale starting in 1863 or 1864, although 1866 and 1867 are given in various places as an official formation of that club. Ultimately, that’s all irrelevant. The current incarnation dates back to 1919, when the club formerly known as Chesterfield Municipal Football Club took the place of a previous edition.

And, as such, we won’t dwell on anything before 1919.

In their first season, the Spireites won the Midland League title – in some parts credited as their second crown, but see above. More importantly, they canned the Municipal name in December 1920 and became founder members of the Football League’s new Division Three North in 1921. After that point, they were set up for the duration; taking up residence in the League and a stay that would last almost an entire century. If you want exact numbers, we’re talking 97 years.

Why do we know the Spireites?

The late 1930s are arguably as good as it got for them; the Spireites reaching the second tier in the years running up to World War Two. They held out for a few seasons afterwards too; ending the 1946-7 campaign in fourth – ahead of Newcastle United and Spurs. But it was the third and fourth tiers that you’d ordinarily find them. And their habit of yo-yoing between the two meant that, for every title they secured, there was a relegation at some point too.

We feel as if we should point out their epic FA Cup run in 1997 that took them all the way to the semi-finals. And, to be honest, they probably earned a place in the final after going 2-0 up over Premier League oppo Middlesbrough. But they couldn’t see it out. And it’s not relevant to Boro’ (us, that is). So, we’re not going to say any more about it.

This was more or less the case as the 20th century gave way to the 21st. During the first half of the 2010s, they rode their luck as Division Two became League One. Twice in two seasons, one win made all the difference to keeping them up there. But that luck caught up with them at the end of the 2006-7 campaign; relegated to League Two. And an instant return was beyond them, which is why they were still in League Two in 2010 when little ol’ us arrived on the scene.

What is our record against them?

In our first season together, we found a Spireites side on the surge under John Sheridan. With a swagger, the Derbyshire side would clinch the title by five points; the only side that term with a defeat count that didn’t break double figures (eight). We weren’t among the select few, though. A 0-0 draw at our place on 30 October wasn’t a shabby result. Nor was our narrow 1-0 defeat up at theirs on 15 January. But our playoff success mean we’d go up with them into League One.

Once there, we cancelled each other out. Boro’ picked up a point (and a first goal against them) on 13 August with a 1-1 draw. By the time it was our turn to shine, the Spireites were in a bit of a pickle and staring relegation in the face. Still, we managed to let them race into a two-goal lead at the Lamex on 10 March. Thankfully, Scott Laird and Craig Reid scored as we salvaged a point. For us, it helped us into the playoffs. For them, it wasn’t half enough to stay up.

Chesterfield: Boro’s Record

Our head-to-head: P 6 — W 2 — D 3 — L 1 — F 9 — A 5— Pts 9 — WR 66%
Our last tango: Chesterfield 0-1 Stevenage, 27 January 2018

What happened to them?

It took a few more years before we met them once again; the Spireites promoted to League One in the season we dropped out. Not for the first time in their history, however, they couldn’t keep themselves in the third tier. When they came back, things weren’t looking good for them. A clue to that lay in the 5-1 drubbing we dished out at the Lamex on 23 December 2017. And we’d then back it up with a 1-0 win at their place in late January.

A second straight relegation was the stuff of nightmares; taking them out of the Football League for the first time since 1921. It’s not like things have been brilliant since either. In their first term as a National League side, they finished 15th. A bit blah, sure. But not the end of the world. And yet they were in very real danger of suffering another relegation in 2019-20 until Covid cut short the campaign. We know how that feels all too well, to be fair.

Luckily, their fortunes showed signs of changing the following season; ending the season in the playoffs. Notts County ended their hopes of a Football League return – albeit temporarily?

• WANT TO KNOW MORE? – Chesterfield club profile

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