Column: A simple '˜sorry' could warm Chesterfield's summer of discontent

Sorry seems to be the hardest word, but it's a word that could begin to heal the rift between Chesterfield Football Club and its fans.

Wednesday, 29th June 2016, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:37 pm
Hartlepool United vs Chesterfield - Chris Turner - Pic By James Williamson

Football is nothing without fans, a wise manager once said.

It’s a phrase the powers that be at the Proact would do well to heed.

The grumblings in the fanbase amount to more than a handful of keyboard warriors with a grudge – this is fast becoming a summer of discontent.

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Take first, the well documented – at least in this newspaper – problems with the ‘legally separate’ academy across the road.

Supporters brought concerns to the Derbyshire Times, we investigated and unearthed debt, coaches going without pay and parents owed refunds.

One of those parents was a club sponsor who had to initiate legal action and threaten to withdraw his financial backing for the club before he got a refund for his son’s cancelled football trip.

That led to us being banned, the club withdrawing their co-operation from the DT, refusing to comment on stories or arrange interviews.

Attempting to put his side of the story across, Spireites CEO Chris Turner, joint-owner of the Chesterfield FC Player Progression Pathway academy, released a statement of almost 1,000 words.

The word sorry did not appear.

Instead, he went on the offensive against coaching staff who worked for his business without pay before deciding enough was enough, coaching staff whose personal lives suffered as a result of uncertainty over the arrival of wages in their bank accounts.

The saga left a section of the club’s support incensed.

When the Football League announced proposals for the previously named Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, the news was met with almost universal displeasure or at best, apathy among Spireites.

Having voiced their disagreement, supporters then turned their attention to their own club and how they voted.

Chris Turner ‘initially’ opposed the changes – that was as far as the club’s statement went, leaving everyone in little doubt as to where Chesterfield’s vote went.

Aside from a couple of signings from non-league, everything went very quiet.

Then came Ched Evans.

It has to be said that many, many Spireites have welcomed his arrival.

But many have not, and as we reported last week, the news split the fanbase almost right down the middle when it came to approval or otherwise for the Welshman’s presence at the Proact.

Before the week was out, the disconnect between the club and its supporters was exacerbated when the family of an all-time fan favourite spoke out against their treatment by the club.

Ernie Moss isn’t just a former player, he’s a Chesterfield legend, a record goalscorer.

So when his daughter speaks of her devastation at having to beg the club for details of the amount raised by Ernie’s charity match, when she reveals not a penny has been handed over yet and a £2,000 stewarding charge has been imposed, a lot of people are going to listen.

The comment sections on Facebook, the fan forums and Twitter made uncomfortable reading for those in charge at Chesterfield.

Again, the club used their website to release a statement that would ‘set the record straight,’ but, again, the word sorry was absent.

Their response was in stark contrast to that of the fans, who raised £2,000 overnight to cover the stewarding bill.

Cue a family overwhelmed and in tears at such generosity – the kind of positive PR a football club could have been enjoying.

It was to a backdrop of all these issues, matchday ticket increases, a sponsor pulling out and rumours of redundancies, that the club unveiled their pre-season schedule.

For supporters hoping to celebrate a 150th anniversary in style, the summer fixture list made for underwhelming reading.

Sheffield Wednesday will bring fans and Championship players, and the club’s hierarchy have used their Owls links to good effect to secure that one.

But with just 45 minutes of first team action planned against Derby during Shane Nicholson’s testimonial and the visit of Leicester City’s Under 21s, the Owls are as high profile as it gets.

There is a European tour planned, but no details have been publicly confirmed by the club, leaving supporters to wonder how , when and where they might mark such a momentous landmark.

One and a half centuries of football in Chesterfield is a reason to celebrate, but unless you can afford £150 to attend a gala at Chatsworth, there’s little in the way of partying on the horizon.

It all adds up to an alarmingly disillusioned fanbase.

Chesterfield can ill afford for discontent to have an impact on season ticket sales or next season’s average attendance.

And it’s not too late to heal the rift.

Matching the fans’ donation to Team Ernie, waiving the stewarding bill, announcing further plans to mark the anniversary or inviting fan input would all count as big wins for Chesterfield FC.

Or a simple ‘sorry’ for the PPP mess or upsetting the Moss family.

It’s one word that would draw a line under issues angering fans – without whom, Chesterfield are nothing.