He was not the most skilful central defender to grace the Saltergate turf in the years I've been watching - you can't look far past Gary Bellamy for that. Steve Baines always looked more immaculate; Nicky Law might have shed more blood and Darren Carr certainly caused more opponents to shed theirs. Yet, Steve Blatherwick deservedly stands alongside all those giants of that pivotal position; an accomplished practitioner of many different disciplines in the rearguard and the perfect rock on which the Spireites built a lighthouse of security for eight storm-tossed years.
Steve's first Saltergate appearance was hardly memorable, in the Nottingham Forest team knocked out of the FA Cup in 1997. The ex-Notts County schoolboy signed for Forest in 1992 but wasn't yet up to the high standard of football that they played at that time. He was loaned out to Wycombe, Hereford and Reading before joining Burnley for £150,000 in July 1997.
He signed for Chesterfield on a 2-month loan in September 1998 to cover injury to Mark Williams. Chesterfield were interested in keeping him but, with his Burnley contract expiring at the end of 98-9, making him available on a free, they were not keen on paying the £75,000 that the Clarets demanded for his signature. To Burnley's mind, Chesterfield had seen enough of Steve to make their mind up in his time at Saltergate, and they recalled him in November 1998.Subsequently, a deal was tied up that included a £25,000 down payment with another £25,000 to come at the end of '98-9.
Steve was denied a regular staring place to begin with, and was played as a striker for a few games, but that changed when Mark Williams exercised his "Bosman" rights to go to Watford in the summer of 1998. Steve seized the chance of a regular first-team place with the Spireites to turn in some determined, bullish displays at the heart of the defence. His most obvious asset was his power in the air, which made him a difficult opponent in either penalty-box. Steve was one of three players surprisingly listed at the start of the 1999-2000 season, apparently as an economy measure, but he did not move on; Chesterfield were relegated at the end of Steve's first full season despite a pretty good "goals against" record, due in no small part to Steve's presence.
Under the tutelage of Nicky Law, Steve added steel to his effectiveness and was elected to the PFA's Division Three Team of the Year in 2000-1. He developed a trademark - a single, buccaneering dribble out of defence and into the opposition's half, that usually spread panic before it. He began to have problems with his back around this time, and missed much of the 2001-2 season because of that, having aggravated the condition as Chesterfield lost 6-3 at home to Colchester on the season's opening day.
2002-3 was better for Steve; restored to the centre of defence he regularly picked up sponsors' man of the match awards and began attracting the interest of other clubs. As the flick-on man for Mark Allott's long throws he contributed to a lot of goals from set pieces. He cemented a deserved place in Spireite folklore when he accepted a contract that included a substantial pay cut in May 2004, mindful of the financial state of the club and showing a loyalty that many thought absent from modern football.
Steve formed a redoubtable partnership with Ian Evatt for the 2004-5 season, scoring four times to double his goal tally for the Spireites. He was in the process of forming a profitable understanding with the stylish Reuben Hazell, playing through the discomfort of continued, niggling injuries when he underwent a double hernia operation in May 2006. Steve began pre-season training for the 2006-7 season but the back flared up again, forcing visits to specialists, and the confrontation of every footballer's nightmare - the advice that he should quit the game, on medical grounds.
In this respect Steve acted responsibly, putting his family first, and no-one criticises him for that. He left Chesterfield with the good wishes of many saddened and grateful Spireites, who showed their appreciation at a benefit match against Forest, before the start of the 2007-8 season. Thinking about it for a moment, I guess the thing we liked most about Steve was the fact that he did not waste opportunities, like others who have been fortunate enough to have been given a football career here; he made the most of the gifts that nature gave him and gave his all for this club on every occasion he turned out for it.
After playing, Steve joined his former team-mate David Reeves on the coaching staff at Gainsborough Trinity and is currently a licensed agent and director of Elevate Sports Management.
For Chesterfield: 215+10 league appearances, 10 goals.