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Sergeant-Major Joe Smith, 13/11/1916

Posted on November 13, 2016 at 6:10 AM

The last former Spireite to lose his life in the series of engagements known as The Battle of the Somme died on November 13th, 1916.

Joe Smith was a powerful centre-half who signed from Birmingham in the summer that war broke out. He brought firmness and leadership to the side, and quickly became a favourite. Joe joined up halfway through the 1914-15 season, along with his pals in Chesterfield's half-back line, as it became obvious that the war was not some jolly jape that would be over before it started.

Smith chose to join the newly-formed 17th battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, the famous "Footballers' Battalion," and was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant-major. He served with distinction as the Somme conflict unfolded.

While many people imagine that "The Somme" was over and done with on one summer day in 1916, the reality was that the battle dragged on through many inconclusive engagements over several months. When the whistle blew along the trenches on July 1st 1916, two "pals" regiments - the Sheffield Pals and the Accrington Pals - went over the top to attack the strongly-fortified village of Serre, at the most northerly point of the battlefield. Their catastrophic losses have entered legend, as the Germans resisted all efforts to take the village. No further attempts were made until November 13th, 1916, when a large body of men were thrown towards the village again, with the same result. The Footballers' casualties were their heaviest in any action thus far in the war; five officers and 93 other ranks were killed; Joe Smith was among that number.

It was reported that Smith was shot and wounded during the advance but, rather than wait for evacuation, rose to lead his men further into battle, only to be shot down again. For his heroism, Smith was mentioned in dispatches a few weeks later. At the time of his death, Smith was sufficiently highly though-of to be considered for a commission.


Billy Gerrish

Posted on August 7, 2016 at 11:25 AM

August 8th 2016 marks the centenary of the death of the former Chesterfield Town player Billy Gerrish, killed in action during the extended Battle of the Somme.

A competitive, scheming and powerfully-built inside-right, Bill was born in Bristol in 1888 and rose through local football to join Southern League Bristol Rovers in 1905. £200 paid for his transfer to Aston Villa in 1909. His side won the League championship in his first season but The Villains were unable to get the best out of a player who was occasionally difficult to manage, and they unloaded him to Preston North End three years later. He left with the very tidy record of having scored 17 goals in 55 League games, although the fact of his playing only 55 games in three seasons perhaps tells its own story.

He made only three more League appearances at Preston before they lost patience with him and unloaded him on a Chesterfield Town side that weren't badly off for forwards, having scored three goals a game in a run of seven straight wins before his debut. Whatever plan lay behind his arrival was immediately scuppered by his breaking a leg on his Chesterfield debut. He returned to play seven more games as the goals dried up, but left the club shortly before the end of the season.

His post-Chesterfield career remains a mystery; he may not have recovered from the broken leg sufficiently well to play professionally again. It did not prevent his being accepted into the 17th Middlesex Regiment - the famous "Footballers Battalion" - upon its formation in 1914. Occasional brushes with authority continued: his military conduct sheet includes a period absent without leave, and a charge of using obscene language to an NCO, while much of his surviving army record describes the battle that the unmarried mother of his son had to secure maintenance payments. Gradually, however, military life improved the man.

Gerrish helped save the life of a another man by volunteering to give blood - a thing tremendously rare, in those days - while in hospital himself in February 1915, and it was this sort of spirit that led Major Frank Buckley, the regiment’s senior officer, to describe Gerrish as “…a splendid soldier, most willing and brave.”

Billy was killed in the early part of the Battle of the Somme, one of 51 members of the 17th Middlesex who lost their lives on August 8th, 1916, at Guillemont. The battalion’s “B” Company, normally 200 or so strong, had only ten fit fighting men left under the command of a lance-corporal at the end of that day. Billy’s legs were shattered by a nearby shell burst and he is remembered laying quietly, smoking a cigarette, while waiting for stretcher bearers. Perhaps those over-worked stretcher bearers did not find him, as Billy is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, alongside 72,000 other officers and men with no known grave.


Fred Bulcock

Posted on July 9, 2016 at 4:05 AM

Today marks the centenary of the death of Freddie Bulcock, the third former Chesterfield player to lose his life in the Great War. A clogger by trade, Fred lived at 55 Sheffield Road. A noted local athlete he joined The Spireites from his local Stonegravels Red Rose side in 1911 and stayed for one season, playing reserve football, before moving on to Hardwick Colliery and Staveley Town.

Fred was drafted into the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers upon enlistment in January 1915. It might seem a peculiar posting for someone who had lived his life in Chesterfield, but that regiment had been badly mauled at the First Battle of Ypres in 1914, and it was sometimes the case that a volunteer would be enlisted in whatever regiments most needed recruits at the time.

Fred lost his life in the Battle of the Somme, which was not restricted to just that horrific opening day, but which rumbled on for five months and claimed the lives of two more former Chesterfield players. In action near Guillemont, the 2nd RSF were ordered to clear a German trench at Malt Horn Farm and push on towards Trones Wood. Little opposition was reported as the regiment took the farm house and forced its way along the trench system; having driven the enemy out, however, they came under a sustained artillery barrage that lasted through the day. At some point in this action, Fred was killed, one of 95 officers and men who lost their lives in the regiment's operations over the 9th and 10th of July, 1916. Fred is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the 72,246 men who died in battles in that area over the course of the war, and who have no known grave.


Another Albert Nuttall photo

Posted on February 25, 2015 at 7:00 PM

No sooner do you find one piece about Albert Nuttall, the Chesterfield Town director who lost his life on active service in the Great War, than you stumble across another one. I'd had this photo in the files for an age, but hadn't known the names of the players. Yesterday, without searching for anything specific, it popped up, named, in an old Derbyshire Times.

It is of interest to Chesterfield FC historians because the Chesterfield Wednesday side, of which this is a photo, from around 1902, was usually made up of local tradesmen and was sometimes used as an ad-hoc Chesterfield Town second string, in the seasons when the club operated without a reserve side as an economy measure.Part of the agreement saw the Wednesday side play at the Rec, and the background to the photo is the old dressing room and board room hut, with its instantly recognisable frontage.

This particular photo contains two men with strong CTFC connections - Nuttall, who is front row, third from the right, and Reg Weston, sat to Nuttall's left, who was player and manager of the Town club and a director of the current CFC. More on the others will be added as I find it out, but the names are reproduced below:

Back row, l-r: H Battison, M Blackshaw, J Sharman, W Austin, S Holland and (suited) J Shooter.

Front row, l-r: R Blackshaw, J Holden, E Heane, AE Nuttall, RL Weston, E Hollis.

Seated front: M Murray.

Another supreme sacrifice

Posted on February 24, 2015 at 7:00 PM

It might be considered inevitable that after we unveil a memorial to the club's war dead we should find another. This is not through want of dilligence in our research, but rather because new research tools are coming online all the time, and these were but dreams of ours when we started this madness, thirty years ago.

So it is that a random search discovered the story of one Albert Nuttall, gentlemens' outfitter and former Chesterfield Town director, who closed his business down and joined up to fight the Kaiser in the Great War.

The clipping below is not quite his obituary, but was published after he was posted missing. Within a week or two news was received of his death, on July 31st, 1917, in that year's "great push." With no known grave, Albert Nuttall is commemorated on the Menin Gate, at Ypres.

A 1905-6 contract

Posted on November 16, 2014 at 2:25 PM

I'm indebted to Andrew Foster, grandson of our former player Joe Ball, for sending me a copy of his contract with the Chesterfield Town club, from the 1905-6 season. Joe joined us from Clowne White Star in 1903 and was sold to Bury for what might have been a British transfer record of £400 in December of that year. The fee is confirmed in Bury's minute books. Wiki suggests here that Alf Common's move to Sheffield United in October 1901 set The Cutlers back £325, and Common was the subject of the first £500 transfer, in 1905. Information on those inbetween is a little hard to collate and make sense of.

Ball came back from Bury in august 1905 for what was reported to be the same fee as what we'd sold him for. Given the Town club's long and increasingly forlorn struggle against poor finances I find that a tad hard to believe, but they did just have £340 burning a hole in their pockets from the sale of Sam Hardy so, who knows?

Ball went on to play for Denaby United, Worksop Town and Mansfield Town, but died during the great 'flu pandemic on November 23rd, 1919, at the age of only 36.

Gerry Burrell

Posted on November 1, 2014 at 6:25 AM

News reaches us that the former Spireite Gerry Burrell passed away in Belfast on October 25th, at the age of 90.

Belfast-born, Gerry was a schoolboy international and served his time as an electrician at Harland & Wolff while playing after the second world war with a Belfast Celtic side that has assumed almost legendary proportions. He crossed the water in 1947 to join St. Mirren after The Saints' manager had journeyed to Belfast to watch another player but was impressed by Gerry's performance in that game. He established himself with the Scottish side, playing 90 times and scoring 26 goals before moving to Dundee in 1951. Three successful years at Dens Park brought a move to English football and Huddersfield Town, for whom he made 59 appearances in three seasons.

Gerry joined Chesterfield in 1956 for a fee quoted at £1,150. At 5'3" Gerry was on the small side, even for a traditional 'winger, relying on speed, poise and ball control to carry him to the by-line and deliver a cross. He formed an effective partnership with Bryan Frear and supplied many crosses for Bill Sowden to feast on. He suffered spells absent through injury, however, and when the time came to review contracts for the 1958-9 season it was decided to free Gerry and place the club's trust in the emerging Andy MacCabe. Gerry played 51 Football League games for Chesterfield, scoring four goals.

Gerry returned to Northern Ireland to play for Portadown. After playing retirement he remained in the game as a scout, spotting talent for Linfield beyond the age of 86! Speaking of his involvement in the game, Gerry said that “I don’t do it for the money, I do it because football is my passion and I still think it is the greatest game on earth.” A fitting epitaph for one of Northern Ireland football's greatest servants.


3-0, and we didn't win

Posted on October 6, 2013 at 2:10 PM

First and foremost, congratulations to Morecambe for their spirited fightback to overturn a 3-0 halftime deficit and win, on Saturday 5th October 2013. Where does this archetypal "Game of two halves" stand in our history?

Going back to the formation of the Third Division (North) in 1921, we have had at least 95 halftime leads of three clear goals in first-team, competitive matches. (Ten early halftime scores are yet to be found.) The Morecambe game was the first occasion on which an opponent has turned our lead around to win. Indeed, there is only one occasion where that lead has been levelled out - the 3-3 draw at Rotherham in the 2000-1 LDV Cup, which we went on to win with an extra-time "Golden Goal."

How about our fightbacks from 3-0 down? As with our surrendering a three-goal halftime lead, there are two occasions on which we've fought back from being three adrift at halftime. This comes from only 65 known instances of our being three goals to the bad at the 45-minute mark, some 30 less than the 3-goal leads we've held, but again, ten early halftime scores are not recorded.

On both occasions, we managed to draw from a seemilngly lost position. Our most recent recovery was in that tremendously exciting Crewe game in our 2010-11 championship season, when a 4-1 halftime deficit was turned into a 5-5 draw. Prior to that, we came back from 3-0 down at home to Doncaster in 1982-3 to earn a point.

Going deep into the history of Chesterfield football, CW Everest's Town team saw a Grimsby Town fightback turn a 3-0 Chesterfield lead into a 5-4 Mariners win in 1917, but this was in an era of wartime football and matches are not regarded as first-class. I personally recall seeing a shell-shocked Lincoln reserve side troop off the Saltergate turf 5-0 down at half time in 1991-2, before the mother of all half-time team talks saw them bring the game back to 5-5. A last-minute penalty finally settled the game in our favour.

It is important to remember that these are possibly not the only instances of us or our opponents being three up at some point in a game, and failing to win. What I've set out above are recoveries from a three-goal halftime deficit. And anyone who saw us surrender that lead at Morecambe can take comfort from the law of averages, which suggests that it'll be another 92 years before it happens again!

Top After Ten (1)

Posted on September 28, 2013 at 4:45 PM


With ten games of the 2013-14 season gone, the Chesterfield Football Club will sit proudly atop the League Two table. Perhaps surprisingly, this appears to be only the fourth time that we have occupied top spot in any division after ten games. Time allowing, I’ll look at the three previous times in the blog this week.

In 1933-4 Chesterfield bounced back from the pain of relegation from level two to lead the Third Division (North) table from September; there they remained for all but one day - the last one. Indeed, if ever a season should have saddled a club with the reputation for starting strongly only to cock it up at the death, this was the season, and Chesterfield were the club.


They got off to a flyer, beating Gateshead 6-0, with ex¬-England man Harry Bedford and Colin Cook both grabbing hat-tricks.  Wrexham were seen off 3-2 in the next, but defeat at Accrington, never the luckiest of places for them, set Chesterfield back.  A 4-0 win in the return against Wrexham set Chesterfield off on a club-record run of ten straight League victories.  During this run, a 1-0 win at promotion rivals Tranmere was followed by a 3-2 win over the division's surprise packet, Barnsley.  20,592 saw the Barnsley game, setting a new League attendance record for Saltergate.  The following week, the visit of Chesterfield to Field Mill saw the attendance record there broken.  Five trains of Spireites supplemented the hundreds who went on bikes or set off early to walk the fourteen miles to the game.  A month later, Chesterfield's visit to Rotherham broke Millmoor's attendance record.  Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see the Spireites!

Colin Cook


Barnsley had slumped to sixth by November, but Stockport had entered the race and were lodged in second place, six points behind the Spireites.  The winning run came to an end against Walsall, who deserved their win but only managed it when Moody sliced an attempted clearance into his own net.


The key to Chesterfield's bright start was a remarkably settled side.  During the first 19 games only Bedford and winger Bert Hales missed matches through injury.  Able deputies emerged in Tom Robinson, the former Blackpool inside-forward, and the tricky, diminutive Billy Wrigglesworth.  Chesterfield beat Stockport with a Cook goal just before Christmas to go eight points clear at the top, but Sliman was injured in that game: without their influential pivot, a three-game run brought only one point and the lead was halved.

The FA Cup was something of an unwelcome distraction in '33-4.  The Spireites took the might of Aston Villa to a replay but crashed  5-0 at Halifax three days later.  A 1-0 win at home to Tranmere cost the club the services of Malam for six games.  That match saw the debut of the highly-rated ex-Darlington forward, Harry Brown.  A vital game was lost at Oakwell in February.  Barnsley came into the match on the back of a nine-nil win at Accrington and were three up by half-time; sustained Chesterfield pressure pulled back two goals but the Tykes held on grimly to the end.  The next match, a 3-2 win over Mansfield that saw the debut of an ebullient youngster named Harry Clifton, was the first of a nine-match unbeaten run.  Pressure was beginning to mount, though: Chesterfield secured a win over Crewe with a last-minute goal and lowly Rotherham were seen off only after an 87th minute Hamilton penalty.


The wheels fell off after Easter.  Only one win was gained in five games, but that was enough to keep Chesterfield at the top.  Public confidence was at rock-bottom, though, and only 6,351 thought it worth bothering with the last home match of the season.  Directors had to face the old, barmy allegation that the club didn't want promotion as players in the team at the top of the league were barracked!

Going into the final game, The Spireites and Barnsley were tied on sixty points, and Stockport were two points behind.  If Chesterfield won, they would go back up at the first attempt.  A draw would be enough if Barnsley failed to win their last game.  If the top two lost, a win for Stockport would take them up, as they had the best goal average of the three (remember, it was two points for a win in those days).  Barnsley were down to play at mid-table New Brighton; just to add spice to the mix, Chesterfield and Stockport were to play eachother, at Edgeley Park.


Stockport's tactics defy any analysis.  If ever a team didn't want promotion, it appeared to be them: their persistent use of an offside trap, allied to a complete lack of commitment to attack, saw the game peter out to a 0-0 draw.  Over on the Wirral, Barnsley led 1-0.  Chesterfield's fate was sealed when a New Brighton player, having hit a post, picked up the rebound and... hit the other post!


Barnsley finished the season with a 21-match unbeaten run and were thus worthy champions.  Chesterfield's goalkeeper, full-backs and halves were remarkably consistent: these six players missed only seven games between them.  Promotion was lost up front.  Cook scored a creditable 28 goals in 37 games but never fully enjoyed the confidence of the selectors.  Malam enhanced his growing reputation with 14 goals in 33 matches and Hales contributed ten goals from the wing.  Bedford's season was disappointing, injury and some peculiar team selections restricting him to twenty-five appearances.


Manager Bill Harvey was given the luxury of time to rebuild the side around goalkeeper Jack Moody, centre-half Allan Sliman and inside-forward Harry Clifton, and dawn broke on the best period in the club’s history when The Spireites returned to the second tier of English football in 1936.


See the 1933-4 stats here

The Hub

Posted on August 30, 2013 at 4:20 PM

I moved from being a simple fan to a Club official because of the consultation on the original "The Clubs the Hub".  I have been regretting it ever since.

As someone working as a volunteer manager in the childcare sector I has views on that aspect of the proposal.  A few months later I was a board member of CFSS.  My time has seldom been my own since this point and I have a long-suffering family!

Although the community aspect had been a significant part of the supporters' involvement from the very beginning it was only with the Howard Borrell led report and Chairman Phil Tooley's volunteer group that there was a plan.  This initial plan was based around a ground at Wheldon Mill but by the time the implementation report appeared it was the Dema Glass site that was intended.

While the community facilities did not feature too much in plans to fund the new stadium the supporters society always recognised that this should be an integral part of the new location.  When CFSS ceded control to Dave Allen by distributing shares to members and allowing the 4 million share issue hopes of a community facility continued.

In order to facilitate Mr Allen’s 80% shareholding the Society sold most of its remaining shares to the majority shareholder and then donated the £200kn back to the Club.  The understanding was that the Club would build the East Stand shell and make it available to the community trust to develop.

It has taken several years to realise this build with various sources of funding including social funders and the Premier League Community Facilities Fund.  Much of this work has been done by CFSS/Supporters Club Chair John Croot along with Kay Adkins and the charitable trust team.  As one involved I found much of the funding bids akin to platting fog.  Charities, social enterprises and local government clearly operate in a world that is not influenced by commercial rules!

Today The Hub was handed over from the development management company, and architect Terry Ward who was there at the Winding Wheel in 2001 signed-off the project.  It is a £1.5m project unique in English football.  The intended outreach work and Spireites Sports & Health Club represent a programme to rival any professional sports club in the world.

For me Heritage isn’t about cold history but more using that history to inform what we are today.  In the history of football in Chesterfield the Chesterfield Football Supporters Society represents a short period.  The Hub is a massive measure of what that supporters' organisation achieved.