Spireites v Boro 20th anniversary: Holland played through the pain barrier

Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.
Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.
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Paul Holland’s chance to play in the biggest day in the Spireites’ history might not have happened.

From the turn of the year he had been nursing a double hernia that required an operation, but he was determined to play through the pain barrier as the cup run developed.

“From the Christmas I only really played in cup games. I was diagnosed with a double hernia and they said I needed an operation straight away, but with us doing well in the cup it got to a point where I wanted to play and the club wanted me to play,” he said.

“Before the game against Forest (Chesterfield defeated Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the fifth round) I had been ruled out through injury on the Friday. Then on the Saturday morning Kev Randall (assistant manager) rang me and said they were struggling.”

Striker Kevin Davies and defender Mark Williams were suspended and injuries had depleted the squad, so Randall and manager John Duncan rejigged the formation. They played Holland in the middle of three central defenders, rather than in his usual midfield position.

From then on Holland played for as long as he could, but tended to come off early in matches, including the quarter-final success over Wrexham where he lasted 80 minutes.

“I was struggling, big time,” he admitted. “But obviously there was no way I was going to miss the semi-final.

“Looking back now I knew I wasn’t 100% fit, Perhaps I should have told the manager how much I was struggling and he might have put someone else in, but as a player you don’t want to miss games like that.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity It was massive for Chesterfield, a club from the Second Division, and I wanted to be part of those games.”