Spireites at Wembley: Remembering Chesterfield's JPT final win against Swindon Town eight years on
Cast your minds back exactly eight years to Sunday, March 25, 2012, where an early morning fog descends in north Derbyshire but that doesn’t stop almost 20,000 Spireites fans from starting their journey to ‘The Home of Football’.
As someone who had never been to Wembley, I was equally nervous and excited to see the 90,000 stadia in person for once and not just on TV.
Ten weeks had passed since Jack Lester bundled the ball into the back of the net at Boundary Park to take us to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final against Swindon Town. Ten weeks waiting to make the trip to Wembley and now it was time.
As the coach departed from Bolsover and made its three-hour voyage to the English capital, scenarios flooded my head. Some were good, others I was hoping to avoid.
Only one place separated the two sides despite their being a league’s difference. Chesterfield sat bottom of League One, whilst Swindon topped the League Two table.
Just 12 months earlier though, the team’s fortunes couldn’t have been much different. John Sheridan was sitting pretty with the Spireites favourites for the move up to the third tier. The Robins on the other hand, favourites for the drop down to League Two.
Then there was the previous year’s final. It just so happened that a team from the north that played in blue, Carlisle United, defeated Brentford, who just so happened to include red in their kit. So surely lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?
League form may be chucked out of the window, but the focus was still on Swindon. In fact, the focus was on one man entirely, Paolo Di Canio. The less time focused on him, the better. It just so happened though that the controversial Italian had never had the chance to appear at Wembley until now.
However, it was time to stop thinking about that as the famous arch loomed ever closer and we had arrived. But still there was plenty of time until kick-off. In that time the McDonalds drive-thru had been taken over by several fans, so we went for a Wimpy’s burger. A walk down the iconic Wembley way and a purchase of a programme later and we were inside.
The team news had been announced and Jack Lester was starting, hoping that he would score on what could possibly be his last Wembley appearance. Swindon boasted some a couple of names such as Matt Ritchie and a certain Jonathan Smith
The red seats soon began to fill up and as kick-off was moments away, as almost 50,000 fans were in full voice to see a new name on the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. The stadium was bathed in sweltering heat as Chesterfield got the game underway.
Despite being the so called ‘underdogs’, the Spireites started off as the better side. The League One side were more controlled in possession and looked the likelier to break the deadlock.
And that’s exactly what happened when Lester prodded home the rebound after Simon Ford’s shot came back off the crossbar. The 20,000 from Derbyshire including myself leapt out of our seats in pure jubilation, only for our joy to be cut short. The linesman had his flag up, signalling offside despite neither of the two players involved actually being offside.
Things went from bad to seemingly worse. Just as the League Two side were coming more into the game, Spireites captain Lester was forced off with an injury. Craig Westcarr came on in place of the veteran striker and fans in blue started to question if this was going to be our day.
Chesterfield just made it to half time on level terms, with fans thanking Tommy Lee and the sturdy defence. The one question on everyone’s mind was, ‘Who is going to step up and be a hero?’
That question was answered just a minute into the second half. Alexandre Mendy made his most important contribution in a Chesterfield shirt when his low ball was prodded home by Oliver Risser of Swindon.
There was pure joy in the stands as a sea of blue erupted into deafening noise as the Spireites score their first goal at the new Wembley.
The newest problem was now keeping a rare clean sheet against one of the most dangerous side’s in the lower leagues. That proved to be a task that was duly accepted by the Chesterfield defence.
James Hurst and Nathan Smith kept Ritchie and Lee Holmes quiet on the flanks. Simon Ford and Josh Thompson acted like rocks in the centre-back positions. Jordan Bowery ran himself into the ground and stopped Swindon from progressing further up the pitch and Lee when called upon made a couple of fantastic saves.
Westcarr could have made the last 20 minutes feel a lot more comfortable but he skewed his one-on-one wide of the goal.
He would get another chance though and in the 94th minute, Mark Randall sent the forward through on goal who made no mistake this time and won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for Chesterfield for the first time in the club’s history.
Those that made the trip from Derbyshire once more sent into uncontrollable celebration, apart from my brother who somehow managed to sleep through most of the second half.
After more than five minutes of unbridled ecstasy, captain Lester and co made their way up the steps to receive a second trophy in as many years under the glorious London sunshine.
In a season of disappointment, finally there was a time to forget all about it and celebrate a victory at Wembley. To this day it remains one of my favourite footballing memories.