Spireites spur promotion season

Spireites spur promotion season

As a result of the international break there has been little league football in England but that doesn't mean to say nothing has been happening. In fact last week witnessed the first promotion of the 2023/4 season with Chesterfield clinching the National League title to earn a return to League Two.

The Derbyshire club's triumph came as no surprise as they have been runaway leaders for almost the entire season.

As it is Chesterfield have done it with five matches to spare. They clinched matters with a 3-0 victory over Boreham Wood last weekend in which they also scored their 100th goal of the season.

Founded in 1886 Chesterfield are the fourth-oldest club in Britain and nicknamed the Spireites after the crooked spire of the town's Church of St Mary and All Saints.

Chesterfield's success was greeted by the Daily Mail headline "Back in The Big Time!"

It might perhaps be stretching things to say League Two is the "big time", but we know what they mean. Chesterfield had been stuck in the National League for six seasons since their 2018 relegation and it is always a relief for a club to haul itself back into the league proper.

The Spireites suffered a frustrating time last season when they just missed promotion by losing in a penalty shoot-out to Notts County in the play-off final after finishing third in the league.

Much of Chesterfield's success has been put down to manager Paul Cook who has given the team self-belief. Captain Jamie Grimes commented: "The manager makes you feel 10-feet tall."

The 57-year-old Cook, who in previous times has guided Portsmouth and Wigan to promotion, said after clinching the title: "I'm delighted for the fans and the players."

It is worth taking a closer look at Chesterfield as they epitomise the experience of so many of the lower league club. For much of their existence it has been a struggle for survival brightened up by all too rare moments of joy.

One of those moments came in 1992 when they drew 4-4 with mighty Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup. It prompted Chesterfield player Dave Lancaster to comment: "I thought there might be eight goals but I never expected we would get four of them."

Perhaps an even bigger achievement came in 1997 when they reached the semi-final of the FA Cup in which they drew 3-3 with Middlesbrough before losing the replay.

The only Chesterfield player who was to achieve international acclaim was the great Gordon Banks who went on to play for England 73 times and was widely regarded as one of the best-ever keepers. After an impressive season with the Spireites in 1959 Banks was transferred to Leicester City for the grand sum of £7,000.

While Chesterfield were celebrating their promotion, at the other end of the table Oxford City (not to be confused with League One's Oxford United) were experiencing relegation after just one season in the National League.

City, who are nicknamed the Hoops, have spent their entire time in non-league football but last season won the play-off to reach the fifth tier for the first time. Apart from that their biggest achievements had been reaching the FA Cup first round on three occasions.

The club posted this rather poignant message for fans: "It's been a great journey and we will continue to fight until the last ball is kicked."

With all the razzamatazz that accompanies the Premier League it is important not to forget the teams which regularly battle for survival in the lower leagues.

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