SAD SPIREITES

Colum­nist Gregor Robert­son looks at Ch­ester­field’s de­cline

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

SO, there will be no League foot­ball in the town with the crooked spire for the first time in 97 years – and what a sad, with­er­ing tale of de­cline it has been.

Since Ch­ester­field’s rel­e­ga­tion was con­firmed a fort­night ago, I have found my mind drift­ing back to Oc­to­ber, sit­ting in Jack Lester’s of­fice shortly af­ter his first game as man­ager of the club, and bear­ing wit­ness to a re­al­i­sa­tion of the size of the task be­fore him.

An ab­ject 2-0 de­feat to Chel­tenham that day had be­trayed a woe­fully im­bal­anced squad, with no pace, very lit­tle qual­ity, and a club with a fan base so dis­il­lu­sioned that not even the re­turn of their leg­endary striker in the dugout could muster much in the way of an at­mos­phere. The rot at that foot­ball club runs deep.

Fond­est

I shared the daily car jour­ney up the M1 from Not­ting­ham to Ch­ester­field with Lester for five years of my ca­reer. Some of my fond­est me­mories in foot­ball come from those days.

The move from a crum­bling Sal­ter­gate to the shiny new Proact Sta­dium was sup­posed to be trans­for­ma­tive. The League Two ti­tle tri­umph in our first sea­son in a new home sug­gested it might be.

The fol­low­ing sea­son we lifted the EFL Tro­phy in­side a rau­cous Wem­b­ley, and League One sell-outs against the likes of Sh­effield United and Wednes­day high­lighted the po­ten­tial of the club.

Not long af­ter I’d left for Crewe Alexan­dra, in 2012, Paul Cook very nearly re­alised that po­ten­tial, tak­ing the club to the League One play-offs.

But, since his de­par­ture, Dean Saun­ders, Danny Wil­son, Gary Cald­well and now Lester have failed to rouse a club op­er­at­ing un­der a cloud of dis­con­tent and un­ease.

Dave Allen, the owner, to whom Ch­ester­field are now in­debted to for a cool £10m, has been try­ing in vain for years to flog the club he took on in 2009 with am­bi­tions of as­cend­ing to the Cham­pi­onship. And, as his in­ter­est with­ered, back­room buf­foon­ery blos­somed.

The sign­ing of Ched Evans af­ter his re­lease from prison brought un­wanted at­ten­tion. The club be­came a laugh­ing stock when they in­vented a win­ner of a raf­fle for a place on the club’s 2016 pre-sea­son tour.

And the sense of off-field in­ep­ti­tude has been fur­ther un­der­lined by FA in­ves­ti­ga­tions into ne­far­i­ous or in­com­pe­tent deal­ings in the reg­is­tra­tion, trans­fer and pay­ment of play­ers. The fact re­mains, though, that on the pitch the play­ers sim­ply haven’t been good enough.

It was no mean feat to craft a squad as poor as Ch­ester­field’s with a £2m bud­get last sum­mer.

Since Paul Mitchell, now Sh­effield United’s head of re­cruit­ment, left the club in 2016, re­cruit­ment has been woe­ful. Last sum­mer, Cald­well signed 16 play­ers, with Guy Branston’s guid­ing hand. The pitch was widened, yet not one ar­rival was a winger.

Chris O’Grady, who man­aged three goals this sea­son, was handed three-and-a-half grand a week, yet some­one who might be able to con­jure up a few chances for him was deemed an af­ter­thought.

Lester ad­mits his win­dow of op­por­tu­nity in Jan­uary could have gone bet­ter.

But it’s not al­ways easy en­tic­ing play­ers to a club on an in­ex­orable slide to­wards the Na­tional League.

Char­ac­ter

Many of the sign­ings he did make were struck by in­juries.

And that af­ter Tommy Lee, the league’s best goal­keeper, was forced to re­tire through in­jury a few weeks into Lester’s reign, while de­fend­ers Ian Evatt and Sam Herd were ruled out for the sea­son.

That’s three ex­pe­ri­enced pros purged from a dress­ing room in flux and in des­per­ate need of a bit of char­ac­ter.

Jack will have learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence and emerge the stronger for it. He leaves with his stand­ing at Ch­ester­field undi­min­ished.

And he has al­ready proved dur­ing his time in the Not­ting­ham For­est academy that, with a lit­tle time and a slightly more tran­quil en­vi­ron­ment, he can em­bed a steely drive and win­ning men­tal­ity in play­ers.

It’s ev­i­dent to­day in a For­est first team strewn with dy­namic home-grown tal­ent.

The way Ch­ester­field have been run, caus­ing a fine foot­ball club to slip into Non-League and, in the process, hav­ing left a good coach, and man, with a bruis­ing de­but in the dugout, is a cry­ing shame.

PIC­TURE: PSI

SINK­ING FEEL­ING: A 4-1 de­feat at For­est Green ef­fec­tively spelt the end for Ch­ester­field. Insets, a dis­grun­tled fan is led away and then­boss Jack Lester

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