When the National League fixtures were announced three months ago, I marked Chesterfield down as a top away day. The journey to the North Derbyshire market town was one of the simplest Wrexham had to make, while my friend, Tim, resided in the same county. It all added up.
Heading into the fixture, my excitement only intensified when the history between the two clubs featured in the match previews. Once an FA Cup quarter-final fixture in 1997, the last time the teams met was a decade ago – the season when Wrexham were relegated from the Football League – and both matches finished in victories for Chesterfield by a single-goal margin at the club’s old Saltergate home.
The latest fixture would be the first time Wrexham have visited Chesterfield’s new ground – the Proact Stadium – and would also be the pair’s first meeting in non-league. With 1,200 away tickets already sold before the game and the Reds sitting joint-top of the league, I travelled to Derbyshire in high hopes of experiencing a memorable afternoon.
Interestingly, despite living in Derbyshire for several years, Tim has only ever been to Chesterfield for footballing reasons. His last visit was with his father-in-law to see a game at the Proact Stadium while his wife was in a meeting. I recall him telling me about his experience. He said it was cold.
This time he chose to skip the match and explore everything Chesterfield had to offer away from football. Which we found out was only one thing: the crooked spire on their Parish Church.
The famous sight is unmissable in the town centre and features on the football club’s crest. It’s thought to be crooked because it’s made of lead – although, legend says the devil sat on there and others claim a virgin married in the church, causing the spire to turn and look at the bride. It’s clearly hard to know what to believe. But it was an interesting place to check out.
At a nearby pub, we cemented our new memories of Chesterfield with some ‘spiral’ fries – which were essentially just curly fries that cost 50p extra to have instead of normal chips. After that, Tim dropped me off at the Proact and headed to the Tesco Extra next to the ground while I watched the game.
Brad Walker penalty
The opening 20 minutes of action were very scrappy. The best two players on the pitch were Chesterfield winger Zavon Hines and our own wideman Rekeil Pyke, who was having his shirt tugged by Will Evans every time he got past the right-back.
Neither the linesman or the referee gave anything for the constant infringement and they also failed to blow when Pyke was held whilst charging into the box. But when Evans handled the ball in the same passage of play, Pyke’s hard work and trickery was finally rewarded with a penalty right in front of the travelling fans.
Normal spot-kick taker Luke Summerfield was not in the squad, so Brad Walker stepped up to face Callum Burton between the Chesterfield sticks. A few Wrexham fans gathered behind the goal in anticipation and I wondered how good Walker was at taking penalties.
It turned out, really good. He smashed the ball into the roof of the net and ran over to the sidelines where wild celebrations were erupting. A few unsavoury sights occurred in the aftermath of the goal which I’ll touch on later but gaining the lead boosted the mood in the away end from jovial to boisterous.
The team upped their own levels thereafter and almost doubled the advantage through Mike Fondop’s stretched shot and Akil Wright’s screamer that was tipped over by Burton. All the while, the 1,500 fans in red were creating a classic away day atmosphere.
Two Dragons and a Jack
As the second half got under way, I began chatting more and more with the fans next to me. To my right stood a Swansea fan based in Yorkshire. He’d never been to the Liberty Stadium before but attended games whenever the Swans were in the north of England – and apparently, whenever any Welsh team were around!
He knew a lot about Wrexham and the National League. He talked to me about our defensive style of play and how finishing is the difference between success and failure at our level. Later on, he pulled out a flag with the Athletic Bilbao club crest on and spoke with passion about how much he loved their policy of only selecting Basque players.
Meanwhile, to my left was a Wrexham fan who I shared the intense ride of the second half with. We sang and backed our team as Chesterfield pinned us into our own box. A few controversial decisions – such as the yellow card given to Rob Lainton for time-wasting when he didn’t even have a ball to take his goal-kick – only made us more fuelled up and determined to help our side over the line.
After the final whistle, all three of us discussed the match before wishing each other well and parting ways. It really helped to have them around as we found some positives from an ending which none of us enjoyed.
Credit to Chesterfield and their manager, Martin Allen, they turned the game on its head in the second half. All their substitutes made a difference. Their whole team looked more fluent and threatening. After 25 minutes of pressure in the closing stages, it was no surprise that Chesterfield eventually found an equaliser.
Five minutes of added time had just been confirmed but we had no chance to bite our nails as they levelled things just seconds after the board went up. Laurence Maguire hit a long ball that found Jonathan Smith free in the box to head past Lainton and silence us all. For a moment, at least. Because as Smith celebrated, he headed straight over to us and made the ‘calm down’ motion with his arms. And it didn’t go down well.
Scott Wilson did the same thing when he opened the scoring at Macclesfield last season. It absolutely infuriates me. I just don’t understand why a player would choose to mock away fans rather than celebrate with their own supporters. If any of our players did that, I’d question their motivations: do they want to score to help their team or to get one over the opposition?
It all left a bitter taste. Chesterfield did deserve a point for their second half onslaught but we helped them out by losing control of the match. Taking off Fondop and Pyke meant the ball didn’t stick up top and our midfield didn’t look as solid with Summerfield missing. Had we also taken our chances after the first goal, the game would have been a lot more comfortable.
Going back to the scenes following our penalty, as much as I enjoyed the atmosphere at Chesterfield, a few fans took things too far and we’re now going to (literally) pay for their actions.
I was at Tranmere last season when a smoke bomb was thrown on the pitch after Chris Holroyd’s goal. I voiced my discontent about it in my blog post from that game and feared we’d get fined… which we did. And at Chesterfield, another smoke bomb was thrown after Walker’s goal, along with some fans entering the field of play to celebrate with the players. So now I’m expecting a double fine.
I feel bad for the club’s directors. They’re fans too and they’ve made so much effort to warn people about smoke bombs, overzealous behaviour and the damage it will have on our finances. But a small group of our supporters don’t seem to care.
I really hope the North Wales Police use the cameras they had in operation to find the culprits that stepped out of line and ban them. Their actions are costing us money that we’ve all contributed to as a fan-owned club. If they can’t heed the warnings, make sure they don’t come to the game. Please.
Seeing Chesterfield’s ground for the first time, unfortunately, underwhelmed me. The outside is very cold-looking and not very inviting. It is better on the inside but still lacked character, which wasn’t helped by the lack of noise from the home fans.
On the other hand, the Wrexham following made the game so enjoyable, despite the late equaliser. It felt like we were back in the Football League and I think that’s what gave our supporters a bit more zest. It was a shame we couldn’t hold on for the three points but talking to the two fans next to me helped me realise we’re still in a good position. We’ll have to start putting away opportunities though, as I fear we’re becoming too reliant on our defence again – something that cost us a play-off place last season.
With two big home games next up, hopefully we can use our excellent home form to put this behind us and keep our promotion push going. I think the title is there for us… if we can start putting games to bed.
Chesterfield 1 – 1 Wrexham
Ground rating: 6/10
I was travelling back from Chesterfield when I first heard about the helicopter crash that killed Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others after the Foxes’ match against West Ham. Therefore, I don’t feel comfortable posting this without paying my respects to those who died.
Hearing the news really shocked me. Even though I suspected the worst, I hoped that somehow everyone was safe. They had to be. To lose lives in such a tragic way would be too cruel.
Unfortunately, though, life can be cruel and no one survived the crash. I now hope the families and friends of all five people – along with the city of Leicester – can pull together at this heart-wrenching time. It will no doubt take a while to come to terms with this tragedy. But by uniting and honouring those gone, we can ensure they will never be forgotten.
May they forever live on in our memories.