Ground No. 99 (return visit)
Visited - Saturday 8th May 2010
Result - Chesterfield 2-1 AFC Bournemouth
Competition - Coca-Cola League 2
Attendance - 7702

It’s interesting to look down the list of club nicknames and see those that tell a history, not just of the club, but of the town itself. Walsall’s ‘Saddlers’ moniker tells a tale of the leather industry in the area, whilst similarly obvious ones are Wycombe - ‘The Chairboys’, Stockport ‘The Hatters’, Rotherham ‘The Millers’, and many more. Albion’s ‘Baggies’ nickname takes a more roundabout way of revealing past industry, the term relating to the baggy trousers that their fans used to wear on the terraces after finishing a shift in the local foundries, the trousers needing to be loose and of thick material to provide protection from the molten iron (although another theory is that it relates to the Tesco carrier bags that they adopted as their kit colours!)

Many names however are merely a play on words, Wolves – Wolverhampton, Owls – Owlerton (Sheffield), whilst a number are just plain and boring like The Reds, The Blues, City, The U’s, etc. nothing particularly descriptive, but in the case of Chesterfield then they fall into the first category, their epithet ‘The Spireites’ linking the club to the Derbyshire town’s most famous landmark. The Church of St Mary and All Saints dates back to the fourteenth century, and anyone visiting, or passing through on the Derby-Sheffield railway line won’t have failed to notice or be impressed by what is one of the most peculiar buildings in all of England. The church itself is of fairly ordinary design, sited in the middle of the town at the heart of the parish, but its spire has over the years become twisted and leaning, reportedly due to the original wooden tiles being replaced with heavier slate and lead, which has seen it starting to lean by over 9 feet from its original position. That’s the official explanation at least, a more fanciful suggestion is that it was knocked out of place by the devil himself after a blacksmith from Bolsover mis-shoed him, causing him to jump in agony and collide with the spire. Whichever one is true though, it’s certainly an unusual sight, and has featured periodically on the clubs shirts amongst the various badge designs they’ve adopted.

Formed in 1867, Chesterfield along with the town’s unusual spire deserve a mention for one of the more unique strips from years gone by. Their 1892-93 effort featured the union flag on its front after the shirts were found in a local public house and donated to the club, their origin or purpose unknown. They’ve gone through a variety of different colours and designs since then, before settling on their more familiar blue tops and white shorts in 1945. It was the colours they were reported to be playing in during their early years when they were merely a winter pastime for the local cricket club, until 1871 when the players struck out on themselves to concentrate solely on football, moving to the Recreation Ground on Saltergate at the same time, where they’ve remained ever since.

My first trip to the ground came in 2006, a League Cup fixture against Wolves which saw the home side win on penalties after an awful 120 minutes of football. Not only had it been a disappointing result, but probably one of my worst trips ever thanks to torrential rain which had seen me walk out of the ground at one point in extra-time, cold, soaked to the skin, fed-up and miserable, walking halfway down the street before back in through the other exit gate, accepting it wasn’t possible to get any wetter! Still, despite the lack of a roof over the away end, then I’d found myself loving what was one of the most traditional looking grounds left in the country, so when it was revealed that the club were to leave for a new site then I was determined to get back, hoping to be able to get tickets for the last match. Despite a little concern when the club announced that they’d only be selling them either in person or by post, it turned out not to be a problem in the end, with the game eventually selling out a few weeks later instead of the mad rush that I’d feared might see me miss out.

Interest from other groundhoppers was understandably high as well, and Duncan from the Football Ground Guide was to accompany me for the day, so I set off early in a good mood to meet him in Tamworth before carrying on up to Chesterfield, arriving mid-morning and heading straight off to the ground to take a few last pictures. Nothing has changed either from my last visit or even in the last 50 years at first glance. Saltergate itself is one of the main roads in and out of the town centre, but despite sharing the name, the main entrance to the ground actually stands just off it on St Margarets Drive. It’s a very confined location, with half of the Main Stand hidden behind terraced houses, their gardens backing up closer even than the ones behind the away end at Luton. Whilst a traditional looking old stand, the one downside here is that its exterior has clearly been in need of a paint job for some time, but with ivy covering half of it, then it has character in abundance that you won’t find at many places these days. The Compton St side opposite is equally obscured from view by houses, whilst the Cross St End is pinned right up against the pavement. Only the Kop is unconfined by its surroundings, with a small car park, and social club outside the turnstiles which themselves are set some way back from the terrace.

The directors of the Damned United chose the ground as the venue to film most of its match scenes at, and after going in you can instantly understand why. It might not have seen much development, but you can’t help but fall in love with it. The Main Stand dates back to 1936 and according to the programme was built by Archibald Leitch’s company, the great man having been consulted for its predecessor twenty years previously, before the club settled for a more affordable design in the meantime. Just to add a slight note of contradiction, no mention of this was made by Simon Inglis in Engineering Archie, and the stand doesn’t really bare many of his trademarks either, but despite that it’s still a fine stand of its age, raised from pitch level with the clubs offices and dressing rooms beneath. A slightly cranked upper tier features wooden bench seating, with stairwells running in front to pitch level, where there was once a terraced paddock, long since demolished. To its right is the Cross St End, a fairly basic open terrace with facilities that won’t be missed by the visiting supporters! Today it would be given over to home fans after Bournemouth were gracious enough to agree to a reduced allocation in the Main Stand to allow more home fans to get to see the final game.

Except for the addition of modern plastic seating in the Compton Street Stand then on first glance you’d be excused for thinking the ground hasn’t changed in years, but this side of the ground has in fact been altered dramatically since it was closed due to safety concerns in 2001 (along with the two ends). At that time shallow terracing ran right to the touchline, with only the rear section covered, but in 2001, along with both ends it was re-profiled more steeply in line with modern requirements. Whilst the Kop and Cross St End didn’t change a great deal in appearance, occupying more or less the same footprint, the Compton St Stand on the other hand was only rebuilt underneath its cover, turning it into an all-seated stand, with a large space between the front row and the side of the pitch where fans used to be able to get a decent view from. Remains of the old terracing with patented-Leitch style crush barriers still intact can still be seen in three corners and behind the Cross St End to provide an interesting comparison.

Leitch’s company had been responsible for laying out all of the terracing during the grounds previous major renovation in the early 1950s. The Kop at this time had been left uncovered, before a roof was added in 1961. This in itself though typifies Saltergate, because like with the rest of the ground, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was older, of the same time that the Main Stand was built, but it’s a telltale sign of the clubs status that whilst it was being erected, only a few miles up the road ground architecture had taken a significant step forward, with the first full-length cantilevered stand in the country opening at Hillsborough in the same year. Still, you can’t help but love its charm, and it’s testament that it’s lasted just as long as Sheffield Wednesday’s North Stand, which they too are now talking of the need to renovate.

Completing the picture is four traditional style floodlights in each corner, something else which are disappearing from football grounds altogether in the name of a more sleek, modern, and ultimately boring design (if you’re lucky and not left with just spotlights on the roof). Whatever your take on modern architecture though (and there are some who like the bowls), then you can’t deny that Saltergate certainly has character and having had a detailed look around for one last time then we headed off to the club shop to make sure we were able to get one of the commemorative programmes (excellently produced), before heading off up to the new ground to have a sneak preview before next season.

From the outside it looks good, with the cladding a bit different to many. Whilst it might not be as close to the town centre (a good 20-25 minute walk), thankfully it isn’t in the middle of nowhere, and is well served by pubs and shops in the immediate vicinity. Duncan was on a fact finding mission for next season’s guide, so purely in the name of research (honest!) we ended up in a pub which will no doubt become a favourite of fans in future years. Close to the away end, the Derby Tup has an excellent range of ales on, including Sarah Hughes’ Dark Ruby (worth the trip alone) and recommend by the landlord, the sandwich shop a few doors down has a range on which you won’t in many bigger places, at a decent price. Before the game, we had planned on going to the Barley Mow as well, but after making our way back towards Saltergate, it was way too busy to get in (the same with the County Bar over the road), so we ended up in the Wellbeck Inn a few minutes away to meet Owen Pavey whose pictures have been lighting up both the FGG and Grountastic for many years. Mark Watterson (Lost Football Grounds on Facebook) and his son Ryan ( who were also there to bring together the biggest meeting of ground enthusiasts in all of Chesterfield!

Despite the pleasant company, it was eventually time to get off though and make our way up to the ground. When I’d bought the tickets, it looked like this would be a play-off for the last automatic promotion spot, Chesterfield sitting only three points behind Bournemouth. Since then though the Cherries (that one relates to their shirt colours) had gone on a great run, confirming a return to League One a fortnight before at Burton, whilst in contrast, the Spireites had been in virtually relegation form, having won just one of their previous 11 games, losing 6 in the process. The 2-0 defeat at Accrington seven days previously had all but ended their play-off hopes thanks to their poor goal difference, so it had ended up with the game not meaning all that much in terms of something to play for. In truth though, once it had become obvious they wouldn’t get automatic, I had been feeling quite guilty for secretly cheering on each bad result! Nothing personal against the club by any means, but with tickets booked, I’d been selfishly hoping this would indeed be the last game instead of one more to go!

Whilst it might have been understandable for me, you wouldn’t think that the team themselves were going through similar thoughts with seventh spot still to play for. However unlikely it was that they’d get it, you might have expected them to do all they could, but the first half was very lackadaisical, with the hosts not really able to string any passes together to make an impression on Bournemouth. The visitors seemed to be doing most of the running in the first half, keeping Tommy Lee in the home goal busy, if not particularly troubled until just before half-time when they went ahead. A corner was crossed in only for Spireites defender Drew Talbot to head into his own net to make it 1-0 at the break.

In the second half Chesterfield should have a penalty not long after the restart when Robert Page was pulled down in the box, but the referee was giving nothing, and it was nearly 2-0 shortly afterwards but for two great saves by Tommy Lee, who denied first Danny Hollands and then Brett Pitman both from close range. It was looking like it might not be a fairytale end to the grounds history as the second half dragged on, but in the 81st minute Jack Lester levelled things with a snap shot from nowhere after he found the ball fall to him just inside the box. That’s when things started to really get going and Lester went close again minutes later when he headed against the post. Kevin Austin had another header cleared off the line from a corner shortly afterwards, as the pressure on the Bournemouth goal mounted, but they reminded the home side they couldn’t relax when they broke down the other end only to see Alan Connell’s long range shot rattle the woodwork and rebound safely to a relieved Tommy Lee. The grounds time was coming to a close, and in some style, but it seemed the officials wanted to let the fans have a bit longer, finding six minutes of injury time from somewhere. It took all of it for the final chapter to play out and with just seconds left, Derek Niven became the man to go down in history as scoring the last ever goal when he lashed home from the edge of the area to win the game for Chesterfield 2-1, Shwan Jalal unable to get a hand to the ball as it sneaked in at the post. It prompted a premature pitch invasion from the home crowd, but after being cleared back to the touchlines, they didn’t have long to wait until they could get back on to the turf as referee Jon Moss bought an end to 139 years of football being played.

After the game, we stayed around to have one last look at the ground before leaving, stopping off in another pub, The Rutland, for a few pints before back to the station and home.

Overall, it had been a great day out. The ground is an absolute classic, and I was glad to have been able to visit it once more before the demolition men move in. Last games are always special occasions, and this was no different, with the club making the most of it with some excellently produced merchandise and the programme. Despite the win, the team did miss out on the play-offs thanks to Dagenham winning their match at Darlington, so it will go down as the final game, and as an additional note, contrary to what was reported in many places, the attendance was a sell-out 7702, more than the 4998 quoted by the Press Association, albeit still a lot less than the 30,561 who somehow crammed in to set the grounds record in 1928.

It probably won’t quite have sunk in for Chesterfield fans just yet that the ground has gone, it never does at first, but when the floodlights finally get pulled down, then just like myself and Gay Meadow, going into town and not seeing those familiar pylons looking down over the sacred turf will be when it finally hits that the ground really is gone forever. They might have a shiny new stadium to look forward to, but Saltergate will no doubt never be forgotten by the thousands who have passed through its turnstiles over the years.

R.I.P. The Recreation Ground, Saltergate, 1871-2010. 

Welcome to Saltergate

Rear of the Main Stand

Rear of the Main Stand and Cross St Terrace

Rear of the Kop

Rear of the Kop

Rear of the Kop

Rear of the Kop and Side of Main Stand

The Kop

Looking to the Compton Street Stand

The Main Stand

The Kop

Old Terracing in the Cross Street/Main Stand corner

Old Terracing at the rear of the Cross Street Terrace

The Compton Street Stand

Old Terracing in the Cross Street/Compton Street corner

Old Terracing in the Cross Street/Compton Street Corner

The Cross Street Terrace

The Kop

Old Terracing in the Kop/Compton Street Corner

Fans enter the Kop for the last time

Players line up for the last game

Ready for the final Kick Off

The Compton Street Stand

The Cross Street Terrace

The Main Stand

On the Pitch

On the Pitch

Saltergate Panoramic 3

Saltergate Panoramic 4

Saltergate Panoramic 5

Saltergate Panoramic 6

Saltergate Panoramic 7

From August 2010:

Saltergate Panoramic 8

Saltergate Panoramic 9


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