The club's former media manager, Geoff Mitchell, provides his Saltergate recollections...
Chesterfield’s last season at Saltergate in 2009/10, after 139 years, just zipped by with so much going on, so much to do. A new manager in John Sheridan, the team flirting with promotion, the club preparing to both commemorate leaving an historic old ground, whilst building a new state-of-the-art stadium at Whittington Moor for the following season.
So when that last match against high-flying AFC Bournemouth came along it was a day full of emotion and reminiscences for so many. Time to recall those first visits to Saltergate, who with, where you stood, the matches, the players, the characters, the highs and lows of supporting Chesterfield.
From 1964, I used to stand under the M in Mansfield on the Compton Street terrace with my old mates from the Sun Inn, and my dad was a regular there as well. Years later I gravitated into the main stand, joined the Executive Club, chaired the Supporters Club for a spell, ran Chesterfield Club-Call, which led to a surprise approach in 1997. BBC Radio Sheffield wanted a roving Chesterfield FC match reporter, a role I was delighted to fulfil on the airwaves from football grounds all over the country for the next 12 years, but that is another story.
The infamous Darren Brown saga in season 2000/01 catapulted a number of us supporters into setting up the CFSS to save the club, and as a member of the CFC board at the time, I took on the press officer role for the club. It was a role which continued to expand every year leading eventually to the move to the new stadium, the setting up of excellent new media facilities to rival any Championship Club, and the launch of a new club website and social media channels with the support of some great media students. After retirement as the club’s media manager in 2012, I returned to whence I came, a season ticket holder keenly supporting my home-town team.
But back to the big day. Former Spireites goalkeeper Alan Stevenson, by now an expert in the marketing of club relocations, brought some commercial structure to the closure of Saltergate and the opportunities of a new stadium. For the actual last game against AFC Bournemouth on Saturday, May 8, 2010, the production of a superb 132-page official souvenir programme. With contributions by so many who love the club it has provided supporters with a timeless tribute to the Recreation Ground.
But there was much more going on in the build-up to a day full of emotions. The ticket office and commercial departments were forever busy with match tickets and club memorabilia, and the media demands were constant. A last-ever photo-call for all the players, club directors, and staff, was even organised on the pitch.
Despite the unbelievably cramped press facilities, designed in a pre-IT age, all the media requests for the match were accommodated on the day somewhere. This left time to attend the excellent supporter-organised pre-match celebration event at the Pomegranate Theatre featuring former players, ex-managers, and rare match footage.
Back to the ground, so not able to take part in what turned out to be a magnificent supporters parade through the town centre, which included a brass band and virtually the last appearance by the Spirettes Cheerleading Squad, and up to Saltergate where the fans were massing with bubbling excitement.
After kick-off, the drama built throughout a highly charged game and led to a breath-taking finale. Spireites talisman Jack Lester scored a much-needed equaliser ten minutes from the end. Then the whole ground erupted in the last minute of injury time, even the media savouring a sporting highlight, when Derek Niven’s shot deceived Bournemouth ‘keeper Shwan Jalal, no less, to trigger riotous happy scenes. Who can forget the ‘Little Britain’ moment when a young lad in a wheelchair evaded his carer to be clipped round the ears for joining hundreds of delirious fans invading the pitch to celebrate.
As fans amassed in front of the directors' box, there was singing, chanting, and the players were cheered. Everyone lingered a bit, not really wanting the afternoon to end. But it did end eventually. The right result followed by chirpy media interviews to record the Spireites' historic last match for posterity.
But there was still more to come as Saltergate kept hold of our emotions for a few more months. The outstanding End-Of-An-Era Celebrations in the big marquee on the pitch over a weekend in early June, with the Farewell Banquet, The Player of the Year Awards Night, and the Family Fun Day and Barbecue. All much enjoyed despite many tears being spilled. The final sad event was held just one week later, the Chesterfield FC Auction, when club items went under the hammer on the pitch with a chance to claim a bit of Spireites history.
Although we know the Saltergate era is over, the memories will surely never be forgotten by all those who, over many years, were there. Thanks for the memories!