Spireites v Boro 20th anniversary: Holland talks pre-match nerves

Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.
Chesterfield v Middlesborough 1997 FA cup semi final.
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Chesterfield manager John Duncan’s pre-match message to his players was to try to take in as much of the occasion as possible, but he agreed to a different method to try to relax his squad before the big match.

“We went to Manchester two days before the semi-final and stayed in a hotel. On the Friday night everyone was pretty relaxed, but you could see on the Saturday that nerves were starting to get the better of all the squad. You could sense the atmosphere changing,” recalled Holland.

“Going away for two days and preparing for a cup semi-final was something we weren’t used to, It was probably normal for Middlesbrough, but for us it was so different.”

“Myself and (keeper) Billy Mercer spoke to the manager and said a few drinks might take the edge of the players. So we had a meal and a couple of beers or a glass of wine. It just relaxed people.”

Chesterfield became a ghost town as thousands descended on Manchester or watched the game live on TV at home.

Holland said: “It was brilliant pulling into Old Trafford before the game. There was a sea of blue — it was unbelievable.

“Seeing so many fans in the ground when we walked out to warm up brought tears to eyes.

“Then coming home after the game was incredible. People were coming out on to the streets and applauding us as we drove through back into Chesterfield on the bus. The fans made it such a special day.”