As the 1960s became the 1970s and Chesterfield shaped well for the Fourth Division title, a sports writer named Basil Easterbrook, who had covered Chesterfield for the Sheffield Star, penned this article for Charles Buchan's Football Monthly.

At a quarter to five on the afternoon of Saturday, June 14, 1947, with the sun so hot you could have fried an egg on the terraces behind one of the goals, I walked into the home dressing room at Saltergate and told the Chester­field team wallowing happily in the big communal bath that Newcastle United had lost 4-2 at Newport.

The news brought a cheer which burst through the steamy atmosphere, for it meant Chesterfield had finished fourth in the Second Division and earned talent money.

The happy characters soaking out the bruises and kicks of battle had just beaten Sheffield Wednesday by the same 4-2 score in a match which will always be remembered because George Milburn, Chesterfield's right back, had in the space of 22 minutes in the second half belted three penalty kicks past the Wednesday goalkeeper.

The Winter of 1947 was one of the most severe of this century and there was such a backlog of matches that the authorities extended the season until the second Saturday of June.

That evening those closely connected with Chesterfield thought in terms of a First Division future. They had a fine stand and offices which had gone up in the thirties; there were plans to erect cover behind one of the goals at the town end and the set-up while not large was trim and good.

The top 22 did not seem like something on another planet as we toasted a season of success just ended and looked forward to the next.

It's as well men cannot look into the future ... Chesterfield were relegated four years later and in another ten they were in Division Four.

In fourteen years from being within just two places of Division One they were three whole divisions away, and in the basement they have stayed.

A Derbyshire town of less than 100,000 population in the football world on the threshold of the seventies is just a whistle stop.

The town with the crooked spire

There was a football club in the town as far back as 1866 only three years after Notts County, the oldest league club in the world, had come into being.

The game had already been established in the town, famous for the crooked spire of its parish church in its very heart, for 33 years when it was given its chance in the Football League.

Blackpool and Darwen were dismissed from the Second Division and Chester­field and Middlesbrough elected in their place. Darwen, the Lancashire club, had suffered a dreadful season in which they won only two games and conceded 141 goals in 34 matches-still the worst defensive record in Football League history.

Chesterfield began their new career at the start of a new century as Chesterfield Town and a bright enough beginning it was. They finished seventh in Division Two, one place higher than Arsenal.

Two poor seasons followed but they bobbed up to sixth again by 1903, only point behind Manchester United, and 1905 finished fifth-a placing they we not to improve upon for 42 years.

In the two following seasons they finished with only two clubs below them. In 1908 they were bottom but one, as they were in 1909.

This was a time when powerful, ambitious clubs were emerging and being taken into the League - Tottenham, Chelsea, Leeds, Hull City, Orient, Stockport County, Fulham, Oldham Athletic, Bradford Park Avenue and Huddersfield Town all gained League status between 1905 and 1910.

The second time Chesterfield finished in the bottom two they were out, found wanting after ten years.

Terrible years of 1914-18

But hunger for sport of a nation deprived of so much by the terrible years of 1914-18 brought the fans back to watch them, Midland League side though they were.

By 1919 they were running as a corporation-backed club under the unique title "Chesterfield Municipal".

On December 13 of that year they we top of the Midland League and when on Easter Monday, 1920, they got the only goal against Scunthorpe to win the championship there were 12,000 there to see them do it.

Once more a league future was possible and in 1921 with the formation of Northern Section to Division Three Chesterfield were among the 20 found clubs.

They set out along another ten-year road which was to take them back to the Second Division. A modest first season in which they finished 13th and then Chesterfield were seldom to be found anywhere but hovering near the top.

Fourth, 3rd, 7th, 4th again, 7th, the two bad seasons to end the 1920s. The recovered to finish 4th for the third time in the spring of 1930 and then a year late scoring 102 goals in the season, they took the championship.

The first Chesterfield player to achieve distinction was a centre-forward called Herbert Munday, who in 1904 was selected for the Football League. Once, he scored the winning goal in a mid-week Cup replay against powerful nearby rivals Sheffield Wednesday, only 12 miles away and this gave rise to a question which still, I believe, asked at local quizzes on occasion, "When did Wednesday fall to Munday on a Thursday?"

In the 1922-23 season a forward called George Beel finished top scorer in the Third North with 23 goals but this paled against the feat of Jimmy Cookson three seasons later when, converted from a reserve full-back to leader of the attack, he set the present club record of 44 goals in a season. He went on to become a star with West Bromwich Albion.

Chesterfield's return to Division Two was short-lived. After finishing 17th in their first season they were relegated with Charlton in their second in 1932-33. How times change ... the two clubs who escaped at Chesterfield's expense were West Ham and Burnley.

They nearly got back at the first time of asking finishing runners-up to Barnsley. They dropped to tenth the next season but in 1936 they were again champions of the Third North.

They went up with a stronger team, holding their own in the three seasons before World War Two, finishing in the top six in 1939 and having two of their players - McMillen and Dudley Milligan - capped for Ireland.

The war seemed to have no adverse affect on the club. They had a great scouting network in the North East; and Saltergate, at the time when I was briefly associated with it for a couple of seasons, was a home from home for Geordies.

Two of them, Ray Middleton - what a fine goalkeeper and man he was! - and Stan Milburn, the youngest of that famous family to make his mark at the time, were picked for England "B". Stan also played for the Football League in 1947.

Then there was Billy Kidd, long-serving left-back, Dave Blakey who came about this time and stayed for something like 20 seasons, Jackie Hudson, Joe Bell, Olly Thompson the trainer.

Harold Shentall, the club chairman, said: "The only way we want to get out of the Second Division is through the top."

Brave, fine words and there was nothing funny about them. The club could look back on famous players apart from Herbert Munday - Ernest "Nudger" Needham, Sam Hardy, immortal name among goalkeepers, Harry Bedford, Willis Edwards, a prince of wing-halves who earned fame with Leeds United, and great inside-forwards like George Hunt and Harry Clifton.

Far better, they could point to present assets like wingers Bill "Legs" Linacre and Gordon Dale, half-backs of the calibre of Reg Halton, Ken Booker and Bill Whitaker, forwards like Hugh McJarrow and Harold Roberts.

But even in their season of supreme achievement post-war economics were already pointing the way down. Chester­field always had to struggle to draw five-­figure gates and crowds of 20,000 were rare, red-letter days indeed.

The following season the club had to fight to avoid relegation, the crowds fell away, the volume of criticism in the town grew loud and unreasoning.

The snowball developed rapidly. Soon Chesterfield were forced to sell to live and because they could not hope to meet the demands of players who felt they had the skill to do better financially elsewhere.

Whitaker went to Middlesbrough, Roberts and Syd Ottewell to Birmingham, Linacre to Manchester City, Dale to Portsmouth. Retirement took stalwarts like George Milburn and Kidd.

The replacements were never quite so good now and they were never enough. The team did rise to sixth in 1949 but it was a last spasm. In the 20 years since the road has been signposted down, down, down. Winning only 9 matches and scoring only 44 goals, Chesterfield suffered relegation in 1951. With them also headed for the basement and the worries of applying for re-election went Grimsby Town.

The dice were too loaded

The old order was changing inexorably and for clubs like these only determination to endure and local pride among the few who always care enough lay ahead.

Many fine men gave the best they had in them to the cause of Chesterfield in the capacity of manager.

But the dice were too heavily loaded against all of them. This was shown to the world in January, 1964, when the club offered their entire playing staff for sale.

Three years before that Chesterfield had surrendered Third Division status and from 1961 no one with any common­sense has pretended that the famous old Derbyshire club have been able to do anything but live from hand to mouth.

Two seasons ago Chesterfield led the Fourth Division at Christmas. The crowds began to come back. But the club eventually finished seventh ... there is a limit to what can be achieved on a shoe­string budget and staff.

Last season they just escaped the bottom four. It was little enough to write home about but as the 104-year-old club come up to the 1970s they can still say what over 50 other clubs cannot say, including Crystal Palace, Swindon Town, Queen's Park Rangers, Millwall, Cardiff City, Watford and Norwich:

Chesterfield have never had to ask the League for a second chance.

 

Notes: 1866 formation freely quoted; most probably taken from the 1906 "Book of Football" history. As far as it is possible to establish, “Nudger” Needham never did play for Chesterfield, at least not in any proper, 90-minute affair, friendly or competitive. The "Munday beat Wednesday on a Thursday" thing is nearly right; the version I've heard concerns Munday scoring the winner against Wednesday in the league in 1900, on a Saturday. No “cup replay” took place between the sides before the 1930s.

SB