New Stadium, highest crowds for 30 years, most home goals for 54 years, and a first Championship clinched in front of the home fans since 1936.
It’s not been a bad year for the Spireites!
John Sheridan, in his second season at the club, is set to sign a new five year contract that, according to majority shareholder Dave Allen; “Shows commitment on both parts.” He’s developed a team whose prime job is to win, but knows the value of entertainment and it’s been the manner of victory that has brought the fans flooding back.
Another five figure gate created a storming atmosphere as Spireites dominated possession but initially struggled to get to grips with a determined Gillingham side.
Andy Hessenthaler’s men, attempting to make the play-offs and with just one away defeat in six months, worked hard but rarely threatened, in the end missing out on a season’s extension.
A goalless first half was followed by a lap of honour from the title winning Youth Team to whet the appetite and then a typical Chesterfield second half followed. Goals with a bit of tension thrown in.
Danny Whitaker got the scoreboard ticking when he leapt on to Matt Lawrence’s attempted kick-away after Jack Lester had burst into the heart of Gills’ rearguard. The midfielder skipped by the keeper and ran wide but managed to slot in his 15th goal of the season from the acutest of angles.
The Kent side levelled when an inch perfect ball from Adebayo Akinfenwa arrived at the feet of Cody McDonald who, with keeper Tommy Lee and left-back Scott Griffiths immediately adjacent, but the ball, which clipped Lee, bobbled over the line in slow-motion. Soon after Bury took the lead at Stevenage so fingernails became threatened.
Dean Morgan came on for leading scorer Craig Davies, who took a superb standing ovation in what looks likely to be his Chesterfield swansong, and the sub immediately started the move that led, inevitably, to Jack Lester getting on the scoresheet.
A perfectly weighted ball from Morgan to the overlapping Griffiths led to a cross which Lester stabbed in from close range to end the tension.
Griffths then found an incredible burst of energy to storm down the left touchline, leave defenders in his wake to cross for Deane Smalley to slide home from a couple of yards to get the party really started. Moments later, great servant Ian Breckin came on as sub in what could be his farewell appearance after two spells, and two promotions, with the club. The moment was poignant.
Having led the table since mid-October, one loss apart, anything but the title would have been seen as close on failure, so when the final whistle blew, the emotion on and off the pitch erupted, without a single pitch invader. Skipper Dwayne Mattis and the club’s current most appeared player Mark Allott stepped up to the hastily built centre-circle stage last to jointly lift the npower League Two Trophy and, not for the first time of the afternoon, the stadium erupted.
Chairman Barrie Hubbard, full of pride, said: “We’ve got 10,000 here and not one fan went on the pitch. All the players have enjoyed it, the crowd have been unbelievable. We’ve been a credit to League Two and we’re going to be a credit to League One.”
Assistant Manager Tommy Wright, conducting the Kop Choir, commented: “It’s a great occasion for the fans who’ve not had too much to shout about over the last few years. ”
Raider Dean Morgan, unashamedly shedding a tear or two, said; “It shows what a team the Gaffer’s brought together, we came together as a team and we’ve produced all year and this is one of the best days of my life.
“The supporters have accepted me for who I am and I love them, they know I love them. I’ll be here next season and hopefully we can do it again.”
Finally, manager John Sheridan who, as always, gave the players top billing, said: “I’ll smile now, most people think I’m miserable but I know how to party with the best of them. I’m proud of the players, they’re a great bunch who’ve not given me any problems all season.”
His biggest problem now will be to follow that. Expectation levels at the Chesterfield FC are now the highest they’ve been for some considerable time.