I’d been looking forward to this match ever since Huw called me up out of the blue and asked if I wanted to accompany him and his Grandad to the B2net Stadium. After all, it was a tasty local tiff between two sides who have become strangers in recent times and a town and stadium I hadn’t set foot in before.
The town centre was understandably tense before the kick-off and the station swamped with rozzers. This was probably the biggest thing to happen in Chesterfield since the famous FA Cup run in 1997, when the Spireites were robbed of a cup final meeting with Chelsea by a short-sighted linesman. All the signs were there - the North Derbyshire constabulary, not used to doing much, had fired up the chopper, dusted off the riot shields and fed the horses.
The club had also encouraged home fans to buy a ticket for the Walsall match on December 17 as well, in the home that the extra tenner would deter Blades fans from snapping up seats in the home sections. So, I have a ticket for a game I have absolutely no intention of attending as it falls on the same day as United’s away at Guiseley, a match I have no excuse for missing, being only a ten minute train ride away.
The people of Chesterfield weren’t deterred and packed their handsome new B2net Stadium. I’m not sure what, if anything, B2net do but they’ve lent their name to a nice venue, which brought the club instant success in storming League Two last season. A classic new stadium boom. Some thought has gone into building it - there’s none of the grand pretence of we’ll-be-in-Europe-in-five-years Darlington which has resulted in 23,000 empty seats and a red-seated, cantilevered millstone. A capacity of 10,600 was a good guesstimate and the success of last season ensured full houses and a hearty repayment on the construction costs.
The atmosphere was also excellent. We were positioned in the home stand behind the goal and, despite their abysmal start to the season, the locals were bang up for the occasion, singing and beating the drum throughout. The many renditions of [John] Sheridan’s Barmy Army got everyone in the ground clapping along. On the other hand, the 2,000-strong away support - or “dee-dars” as they are known in Chesterfield (can’t imagine the people of the Steel City are hugely offended by that... a poor man’s dingle) - were very disappointing and comprehensively out-sung. There was passion in their versions of club anthem Annie’s Song at the start of each half, but little else until they scored later on.
The game was end-to-end and entertaining, meaning we were on our feet almost constantly but I’ve never known a football crowd so restless. Not sure if the pies are exceptionally good here or there’s just mass incontinence, but people were getting up and walking down to the concourse every five minutes. The bloke next to me, who was exceptionally simple, wandered off four times and we were up and down regularly for a blonde woman in the middle of the row. The enormous chap on the row behind, who turned up half an hour late, moaned at us for persistently standing (not our choice, but necessary to see anything at all) and then stomped off just before half-time to find an unobstructed view because he was too lazy to hoist his fat carcass up to see what was going on. Prawn sandwich brigade in action?
United, as their lofty league position and the form guide predicted, carved out the clearest opportunities of the opening half and at times it seemed as though Chesterfield were clinging on for dear life. Ched Evans hammered a shot which stung the palms of goalkeeper Greg Fleming and he saved twice in a goalmouth scramble to thwart Neill Collins and Chris Porter. By the end of the half, it seemed inevitable that the visitors would take the lead, but as the clock ticked down, there was a growing sense that an upset could be on the cards.
The early part of the second-half supported this theory. Chesterfield, growing in stature, enjoyed a very bright spell and had lightning-fast Tope Obadeyi lifted his head up after a lung-busting 70-yard touchline dash instead of side-footing tamely into Steve Simonsen, the day could have been different. They also hit the crossbar at one stage through Leon Clarke’s audacious overhead kick but didn’t find the luck they deserved for a workmanlike performance.
And so the inevitable happened. First Stephen Quinn, who had been the year’s first pantomime villain for his play-acting in the first half, deflected Matt Lowton’s shot into the net, only to see celebrations cut short by an offside flag. But United persevered and won it when Evans drove through the Chesterfield defence and found the bottom corner with an inch-perfect shot in front of the travelling fans. Pandemonium ensued with several fans spilling onto the pitch and a couple of geezers in our section breaking cover to jump up and celebrate. One was swiftly bundled out by the stewards as every nutjob and moron in the ground bounded down the steps to tried and get at him. Doubt he’ll be back for the Walsall game.
United held out through five minutes of stoppage time, and Sheridan’s very belated introduction of cult hero Jack Lester, to keep their push for an immediate return to the Championship going. A thoroughly enjoyable day out.
Next Match: Nice and easy away day to Stalybridge Celtic next Saturday, via the brilliant Buffet Bar at the station