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Inspired by the Trump Watch activated as an Abstract Chat thread I thought that, as we are all football fans and are all prone to the eccentricities, poor decision-making and sometimes malign activities associated with club ownership, there should be a space on Babble for us to write about and discuss clubs in trouble in this way.

I thought we might as well open on my own club Chesterfield, whose predicament as a struggling non-league club, very possibly facing its end was delineated in the readable article that follows. Ardent Sheffield Wednesday fans are warned that a name is mentioned which may cause them considerable distress:-

"Chesterfield. You know. That town with the wonky church. Came within a whisker of reaching the FA Cup Final in 1997 before David Elleray confirmed he wasn’t a fan of fairytales.

The town that most people assume is in Yorkshire but is actually part of Derbyshire. Ah yes, Chesterfield. The reason why Chesterfield’s incredible cup run twenty-one years ago was so celebrated was not just down to its improbability but because of how unassuming the club is. Or rather, was, of which we will come to.

Not just for a spell, but for decade upon decade (apart from a very brief respite in the second tier in the 60’s) Chesterfield was just your standard third tier/fourth tier team. Always seemingly belonging to one of those two tiers. A reassuring name to see on the Grandstand videprinter or hear on the radio classified scores every Saturday early evening, as Ron Manager would put it.

An average town but always with a faithful, proud and committed following to their
football club’s fortunes. Neither punching above nor below its weight for the town’s size, the Spireites would seemingly always occupy its own cosy spot in the Football League hierarchy. The backdrop to these events until 2010 was the Recreation Ground, or more commonly referred to as Saltergate.

Saltergate was a ‘proper’ stadium. By ‘proper’, I mean a stadium that hadn’t changed
in the slightest since the day it was built. It was ugly, practically falling apart by the end of its 139th year of use and was the embodiment of a lower league stadium hanging on for dear life. Many away fans have often described Saltergate as one of the worst football stadiums they have ever visited.

But it was home and it was an unabashedly emotional day when Chesterfield played Bournemouth on the final day of the 2009-10 League Two season as this would be the final competitive game to ever be played there. The match could not have ended in more romantic fashion as Derek Niven, a cult hero of Chesterfield, scored deep inside injury time to win the game 2-1 for the Spireites and spark one of the most frantic and joyous pitch invasions you’re ever likely to see.

For the 2010-2011 season, the Spireites would finally move to their new home: the fabulously creatively named b2Net stadium (now known as the equally creative Proact Stadium).

Historically, this would always be a watershed moment for the modest club but it would end up being a watershed for more than just historic value. It would spark the start of a new era where Chesterfield would come tantalisingly close to breaking free from the third/fourth tier rut via the most attractive football the club has arguably ever seen to a staggering demise that has seen the club fall into non-league football for the first time in 97 years.

This is a club which has gone from the cusp of the best position in its history to the very worst inside just four years, thanks to a jaw-dropping array of blunders from the club’s owner and board which has left the fans in complete disbelief and questioning just how much lower the club can possibly sink to in such a short space of time.

By the end of this article, it should become clear that no matter which team in England you support, you cannot possibly be having a worse time than being a Spireites supporter.

The new stadium era saw a more eventful period for the club immediately. John Sheridan secured promotion from League Two in the 2010-11 season. An instant and rather predictable relegation from League One followed the very next season but even this was softened by a very surprising Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win at Wembley.

After a disappointing start to the 2012-13 season, Sheridan was replaced by the highly rated Paul Cook and it’s from that point on that the rollercoaster began its breakneck trajectory upwards before its almighty fall down.

Cook secured the League Two title in his first full season in charge assembling arguably the club’s best ever squad. The inevitable de ja vu of a relegation battle never followed the next season. Shockingly, Cook managed to lead the Spireites to a 6th place finish with a pleasing blend of attacking football and confidence.

The Spireites would lose to Preston in the play-off semis but the fans were in unanimous agreement that this had been an exceptional two seasons for the club and the future looked very promising. With just a bit more funding from the board and owner, Paul Cook could incredibly have a real chance of taking this club to the Championship.

And that is where everything collapsed completely. The club has always fallen foul of having any sort of real ambition and it is this indifference of vision and shrug of the shoulders attitude to the fans that has led the club to it now clinging on to life support.

Cook was stunned after being told by the board that he would be given no funds at all to build on his superb success over the past two and a half years. After realising that his efforts were not going to be rewarded by any real backing and that his ambition was completely unmatched by the owner or the board, Cook resigned only a few days
after the play-off defeat stunning the fans.

What has followed is a masterclass of how to destroy a football club and how to completely alienate your fanbase.

This article could last the length of Shakespeare’s complete works to go into the full details of how disastrous the last four years have been, but this is a brief (and as polite as possible) summary of how the club now finds itself staring into the football abyss.

First of all, Dean Saunders, who can best be described as the idiot’s idiot, was hired as Cook’s replacement on the basis that he was a good after dinner speaker (Saunders delivered an after dinner speech at a Proact Stadium function towards the end of Cook’s final season). Saunders’s CV was impressive – successfully relegating the past three teams he had managed.

Fans were shocked at the appointment of Saunders but were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Chesterfield’s performances under Saunders though were poor and showed a much uglier style of play compared to Cook. As it became clear halfway through the season that Saunders was in real danger of managing to relegate four clubs in a row, Saunders was sacked to his comical disbelief.

Saunders reminds me of a lower league version of his compatriot Mark Hughes in the sense that his book of excuses has no final chapter and for his complete inability to handle any questioning of his tactics and approach to managing his players. He’s a classic case of thinking if you were a good player in the 90’s this automatically makes you a good manager and that your approach to the game can’t possibly be out of date. Any listens to his contributions on TalkSport confirm this.

What categorically can’t be denied is that Saunders has a hell of an agent on his hands and probably warrants a knighthood by now.

What followed this was at first glance the sensible appointment of Danny Wilson. In fact, I don’t think Wilson did too much wrong in his time at the club. It was the first real indicator that management wasn’t the only cause for concern at the club – that there was something fundamentally wrong at the heart of the club that was creating a virus for everyone to catch involved with it.

The club decided to sign Ched Evans which caused a huge amount of controversy and massively divided the fanbase. At the time of signing him, Evans was awaiting a retrial of his previous conviction for rape. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my club to sign players that don’t have a rape case hanging over their head.

It is worth explicitly reminding here, that Evans was found not guilty of rape in the retrial. The fact though that the club was willing to get ahead of other clubs who would be able to pay Evans far more money in wages and risk signing someone who at the time had such a serious moral question mark hanging over them confirmed that the club barely had any morals left either.

It was a poor look for the club as was the bickering on social media between fans divided on the morality of the issue. After all, would you be happy if your employer decided to hire somebody who had initially been found guilty of rape and now had a retrial hanging over them?

The fact that Evans was eventually found not guilty is irrelevant – the fact that Chesterfield were happy to risk signing a player who could have been found by the law to be a rapist to get ahead of other teams in the transfer market left a deeply uncomfortable taste in a lot of fans mouths.

After being found not guilty, there is no doubt Evans should be allowed to carry on with his career as best he can and try and put this all behind him but there is no question a lot of fans were disgusted by how needless this situation was and how badly the club looked in the media afterwards. It was poor to see Evans practically worshipped as some kind of saint by some fans on social media, when ultimately he still cheated on his partner.

There is no question that this seriously tarnished the club’s image and began the alienation of the club’s fanbase. It was clear from then that the board had no real concerns regarding how the fans felt about the running of the club and their relationship to the team.

Wilson managed to keep the club in League One despite Saunders’s best efforts and there was genuine belief that things would start improving again the next season. It soon became clear though that the club was now nowhere near good enough to remain in League One.

With a quarter of the season left, Wilson was sacked while the club was inside the relegation zone but still with a realistic chance of one good run away from managing to escape the drop zone.

Those hopes were immediately dashed by the appointment of Gary Caldwell. Caldwell was a funny one. There’s no doubt Caldwell can talk a good game but the performances on the pitch never, ever reflected what he was saying. To clumsily paraphrase a line from Peep Show, everything Cook touched turned to gold but everything Caldwell touched turned to pure shite.

Chesterfield lost the vast majority of games under Caldwell’s quarter of the season after a string of derisory performances and fans were immensely disappointed at the club’s surrender to finish the season bottom of League One.

The beginning of the following League Two campaign was spectacularly awful on and off the pitch. The performances and results continued to be a horror show and the club were immediately battling against an embarrassing double relegation which would result in non-league football for the first time in almost a century.

Relations with the fans had now sunk to an all-time low as the club was caught in an embarrassing scandal. It had become clear that in pre-season when the club ran a
competition where the winner would have a ticket to one of Chesterfield’s pre-season friendlies held abroad, that the announced winner had been entirely made up. Yep, the club just made up the winner. None of the fans who entered ever stood a chance of winning.

This was another shameful act from the club and fans were rightly outraged by it and made that very apparent. The club was also, as painful as it is to say, rightly ridiculed on social media for this by fans across every league and the Spireites completely deserved this public embarrassment.

Caldwell managed a sterling 3 wins from 29 matches altogether hanging on to a win percentage of double figures. Inevitably, much to his protest and reassurances that he would be able to turn things around, Caldwell was sacked.

To replace Caldwell, Chesterfield then decided to vary the style of turmoil by deciding to butcher the legacy of one of the club’s heroes, Jack Lester. Lester was beloved
by fans and there was a real sense of optimism that what the club needed was not necessarily someone with experience (this was Lester’s first senior management role), but someone who knew the club inside out and had a real affinity with the fanbase.

Once again though, the slide into the abyss merely continued at the same, stomach-churning pace. I have a lot of admiration for Lester’s bravery in taking on this role. These were incredibly difficult circumstances, particularly for your first role in senior management. Results improved slightly but it was still simply not good enough. While relegation was not confirmed at the end of this match, the Grimsby Town vs Chesterfield match towards the end of the season is what effectively began the death of the club and was definitely the worst Saturday afternoon of football I have ever experienced.

Set in Cleethorpes, a town which I’d describe as ‘character-building’, I watched the most desperately poor game of football I have ever seen in my life. Grimsby were around 20 games without a win and Chesterfield hadn’t been on form for the past three and a half years.

A staggeringly poor game inside a stadium with toilets that had grown men weeping and a home family stand that saw their own fans beating the shit out of each other, seemingly for something to do rather than watch what was in front of them. Chesterfield inevitably lost 1-0 thanks to an 88th minute penalty in a game where penalties was the only realistic source of where a goal could come from.

Every Spireites fan knew the game was up at that moment. A few days afterwards, Chesterfield were officially relegated midweek without even kicking a ball and fans were completely numb at how quickly everything had turned sour and shocked that non- league football was really happening for the club.

And so we finally come to this season. And yes, things already have got far, far, far, far, far, far (times it by another fifty) worse. At the time of writing, Chesterfield have just drawn 1-1 away from home against Maidstone United.

This marks eleven games without a win and three goals scored in their last nine. Considering Chesterfield won their first three games without conceding a goal, it’s another bizarre and depressing chapter in the decline of the club.

At the helm now is Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Allen, an appointment applauded by many at the time. There was a strong feeling that this was very much the type of manager to finally stop the rot and bring back the good times.

Fourteen games in, Chesterfield find themselves just a point ahead of the relegation zone. There’s now a fifty-fifty split between fans who already think it’s time for ‘Mad Dog’ to go. This is truly the most baffling and worrying moment in the club’s entire history.

There was a wave of optimism when Allen was appointed; fans loved his unorthodox approach to releasing PR statements himself with his often quoted signature, ‘Take care, Martin’. The positivity has already deflated and fans are now questioning just how much lower the club can go.

Incredibly, the attendances have not dipped too much this season. There’s still always over 3,000 willing to brave a home match and a very faithful away following no matter where we are playing in the country. The club sold out their away allocation of 1,300 for the trip to Salford City for a fifth tier game to put that into perspective. But there is no denying that every fan is aware this is a jaw- dropping situation that the club now find themselves in.

The club has very little money now. The club cannot find a buyer. If Dave Allen, the only person who is financially keeping the club afloat but despised by the majority of the fans, decides he has had enough and decides the club is no longer worth the effort anymore, then Chesterfield FC will undoubtedly go bust and will cease to exist.

Chesterfield are very close to drifting away to the sixth tier similarly to the likes of other clubs that you’d normally associate with being a Football League team: Torquay United, York City and Stockport County. The even bigger worry though is that they become arguably the biggest team in England to ever go completely bust and have to start from scratch altogether.

As crazy as it sounds,the town known for the Crooked Spire are wading knee-deep in a wretched mire towards a situation that Halifax Town, Darlington and Chester City amongst a worrying amount of others have found themselves in.

In short, the performances recently have been abominable and are met by only a chorus of boos. The fans are bereft of hope, sick of the awful player recruitment, sick of the lack of ambition and sick of the fact that nobody high up in the club will ever take responsibility for the death of it. Because that’s what it is: the fans feel that they now support a completely different team to what they did before.

This isn’t Chesterfield FC anymore – they’re paying every month to watch an identity starved team ruled by a bunch of clowns that are in complete denial. The club deserve to be ridiculed by rival sets of fans on social media every single week.

Nobody knows when this miserable era is going to end and there is a massive sense of hopelessness amongst the fans. The club does not deserve the attendances it still manages and it can’t be long before there is a mass boycott of the club’s games.

It’s worth noting at the end here that Paul Cook, since resigning from Chesterfield, has won the League Two title with Portsmouth, the League One title with Wigan Athletic and now has Wigan outside the Championship play-offs on goal difference.

Hopefully, Martin Allen can find some sort of inspiration from somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere. Before it really is too late. Not just for this season. But for good."

Words: Matthew Rhodes, published online by Joga Magazine

Arguably we could argue that the club has been on shaky ground since early this century when we were criminalised and began to be known as Cheaterfield by opposing fans. The following article concerning our criminal chairman at that time should enlighten you:-

The youngest chairman in the football league has been jailed for four years after taking one of the country's oldest clubs to the brink of extinction within 12 months of assuming control.

The apparent rags-to- riches story of Darren Brown reached its zenith when, at 29, he took over control at Chesterfield FC.

A former photocopier salesman, the self-styled sports mogul already had control of the Sheffield Steelers and Hull Thunder ice-hockey clubs and the Sheffield Sharks basketball team.

He saw Chesterfield FC, which was formed in 1866, as the jewel in his portfolio but behind his seemingly burgeoning success lay a string of struggling sports ventures.

He used the club's money to prop them up and to buy goods including a Range Rover for his wife and a £2,500 lawnmower.

In a disastrous, 12-month spell, he took the club from being in the black to £2 million in debt, even trying, as a last-ditch effort to conceal his fraud, to sell the club's stadium to property developers.

Three seasons after Chesterfield appeared in an FA Cup semi-final, the club had to be bailed out by supporters to prevent it from disappearing altogether.

Brown, 34, from Wingerworth, Derbys, pleaded guilty to two charges of fraudulent trading at a hearing last November. The case could not be made public until yesterday, when a judge at Derby Crown Court lifted a reporting ban. Nicholas Dean, prosecuting, told Nottingham Crown Court: "He used Chesterfield as his own personal piggy-bank. It was a sustained fraud and left the club facing financial disaster."

Judge John Burgess said Brown, who began his working life as a trainee salesman in a British Gas showroom, had been "driven by ambition" and had "milked Chesterfield FC for all it was worth". Disqualifying him from being a company director for 10 years, the judge told Brown: "You were attracted by the glamour of owning a football club but were prepared to use dishonest means to obtain that glamour. "You are an ambitious, plausible and persuasive man. But you have flouted common sense in matters of good accounting and book-keeping.

"You knew you would have to resort to dishonesty, and that was a disaster for everyone at the club."

Fans on Chesterfield's own online forum have identified and dated pivotal moments in the club's recent history following our apparent recovery from basket-case status after Darren Browne gave us a team good enough for promotion despite a nine-points deduction ....... that we then inevitably could not afford to keep, which resulted in relegation to go with our general unpopularity. They start in 2010 with the appointment of Ashley Carson who continues as Dave Allen's representative in the casino known as Chesterfield. Defining Mr Allen's ultimate aim is impossible. He appears to be acting against his own best interests by presiding over Chesterfield's demise ....... but that's because we only get flashbacks, no fast forwards:-

Mar 2010
Ashley Carson appointed to the Board of Directors.

Dec 2011
Carol Wilby leaves the club.

Chris Turner appointed as the club's Chief Executive.

Apr 2012
It is confirmed that Barrie Hubbard will leave the club in June.

Oct 2012
Discharged bankrupt Liam Sutcliffe and Rotherham United's developments centres link up with the club.

June 2013
£438K loss reported

Nov 2013
Alan Walters leaves his position as the club's Finance Director.

June 2014
£1.06M loss despite promotion, JPT Wembley final, Tom Jones Concert & Party at the Proact which contributed to £6.3M turnover!

Aug 2014
Discharged bankrupt Kevin Fitzgerald appointed as Head of Sales & Marketing.

Nov 2014
Courted Abdul Latif Alnassar for the best part of 12 months on the understanding that he would invest / facilitate investment.

May 2015
Dean Saunders appointed as manager.

June 2015
Derisory £85K profit reported despite selling Cooper to Leeds, Doyle to Cardiff, Roberts to Portsmouth & appearing in the play off semi finals.

Nov 2015
Dean Saunders dismissed after just 6 months in the job.

Dec 2015
Danny Wilson appointed as manager

Jan 2016
Start of the bad press relating to CFC Football Development School.

Feb 2016
Dennis Bingham - International Scouting Consultant.

June 2016
Derisory £42K profit reported despite selling Darikwa to Burnley, Clucas to Hull and Morsy to Wigan (transfer income totalled £2M).

July 2016
CCJ awarded against CFC 2001 Ltd for £6,327.

Fake raffle winner.

First legal charge on the ground transferred from the council to A&S Leisure.

Nov 2016
Resignations of David Allen, Philip Taylor, Chris Breeze, David Jones & Alan Goodall from the Board of Directors.

Jan 2017
Demotion of Chris Turner from CEO to Director of Football.

Danny Wilson dismissed after just 12 months in the job.

Appointment of Gary Caldwell.

Mar 2017
CCJ awarded against CFC 2001 Ltd for £1,962.

CFC Football Development School Ltd placed into voluntary liquidation.

Chris Turner made redundant.

Apr 2017
Discharged bankrupt Guy Branston appointed as the club's Head of Recruitment.

Hired thug threatens supporter.

May 2017

Sept 2017
Gary Caldwell sacked after less than 8 months in the job.

Guy Branston leaves the club after less than 6 months in his role.

Jack Lester appointed as manager.

Dec 2017
Sally Swain charged by the Football Association relating to the Paul McGinn transfer.

Apr 2018
Jack Lester leaves the club after less than 7 months.

May 2018
FA charges relating to a third party paying the wages of Myles Wright & Jake Orrell.

Relegated to non league football.

That well known club official, Dave Rocket harasses the club's historian which ultimately lead to his resignation.

We are literally in debt to Mr Allen. Without him we would not have our stadium. But our debt never reduces, whoever we sell for what and that money doesn't find its way back to the team either.

I think we should tell the stories of other clubs like Chesterfield, because the experience of being a fan is largely of being a victim rather than a customer, or a stakeholder. At Chesterfield fans are treated with contempt and we are far from unique. And we may not be here much longer to serve as a warning.
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