Football: Saltergate's wait is over

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The Independent Online
Chesterfield have been playing football for 130 years at Saltergate, longer, it is thought, than any professional club has anywhere, but they have never had a day like Saturday.

The club are believed to have first played on the site in 1866, six years before the FA Cup was created. They were obviously not convinced by the knock-out concept taking two decades to enter and even longer to prosper. It was 30 years before they reached the third round and this weekend until they reached the sixth.

They did so with a 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest, a club of marginally older vintage and considerably greater pedigree. Not that it showed. Forest were lucky to only lose by one, as Stuart Pearce admitted afterwards: "If we had been playing a Premiership side it would have been a much heavier defeat.''

The player-manager was suspended, and badly missed. In his absence Forest's defence was as thin as their spirit. "They wanted to win it more than we did," Pearce said. "Everyone at the club should feel let down. The way things are we do not have time to let two or three games go with people sulking and letting their heads down.''

A year ago Forest were preparing to meet Bayern Munich in the Uefa Cup quarter-finals, this spring they only have a fight against relegation to look forward to. Meanwhile, Chesterfield are approaching Wembley on two fronts.

They have already played there twice in the 90s, more often than Newcastle. They lost the Third Division play-off final in 1990 and won it five years later. A Second Division play-off appearance this year is possible. Incidentally, the profusion of Wembley games is such that Portsmouth (last appearance 1939) and Wrexham (never) are the only members even of this year's unsung quarter-final line-up not to have played there in the last decade.

However, play-offs, Auto-Windscreens Shields and Zenith Data Systems Cups are all very well but the FA Cup is the genuine article. That is why Saltergate was packed to its legal capacity (which seemed way below its real one) while the ticketless watched from trees, roofs, skylights, balconies and window ledges. There was probably someone up the crooked spire as well. One lad, perched by a chimney pot way down a sidestreet, could not have seen much at all.

Kenneth Clarke had a better view, not that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have enjoyed it, being a Forest fan, but at least the blues beat the reds. Other traditional ingredients included a local radio man intent on proving he did not need a broadcasting transmitter to be heard all over Derbyshire, a bumpy pitch and terracing on three sides.

Terracing has recently entered the election debate with Labour suggesting a repeal of the need for lower division clubs to go all-seat. There is much to commend this in terms of cost and atmosphere but on Saturday the evidence was mainly negative.

A rumble broke out in the Forest end at half-time, in the area nearest the most vociferous home support. The fluidity of terracing meant the police had to opt for containment rather than arrest - though it also meant peaceable spectators were able to move away, unlike with seating.

As the bitterness of the local rivalry became evident one realised why the town had been drenched in police. They were everywhere, one half-expected to see a bear in the air. The cost of policing inside the ground alone came to pounds 12,000. It was worth it. Only excellent policing prevented the celebratory end-of-match pitch invasion being met by a malevolent incursion from the visiting end.

Such an event would have burgled the headlines and taken the gloss off Chesterfield's day. Their victory, like this year's cup in general, underlined that the gap between Premiership players and their lower brethren is widest in the pay packet. Much of the game is still played with the mind and heart. In one-off games, if not over a season, organisation, discipline and spirit can make up for many a deficiency in skill.

Chesterfield had plenty of those qualities on Saturday. John Duncan has been criticised locally for producing negative football but his charges were enterprising on Saturday. There was quite a lot of hoofing from the back but the midfield pair of Tom Curtis and Chris Beaumont used the ball well on the ground. This benefited Kevin Davies, the precocious teenage striker, and Jonathan Howard.

Davies is clearly talented, he has awareness and holds the ball up well. He also likes a shot, taking the option so often it suggested he was playing to the gallery (of scouts). Howard caused more problems with his running both on the ball and off it.

He should have headed in from Davies' excellent 31st- minute cross, and scored from a break after 47. Then Beaumont went past Haland and the woeful Woan in midfield and picked out his run. Howard rounded Crossley, who rashly brought him down. The penalty, converted by Curtis, beat Alan Fettis, Crossley having been dispatched with a red card.

Darren Carr almost settled it four minutes later with a header that Dean Saunders did well to deflect on to the bar. Neither that, nor a bad miss by Howard after he had beaten Fettis, mattered. Forest never looked like beating a defence well marshalled by the composed Paul Holland. Even if they had broken through, Billy Mercer looked equal to the challenge.

Some of these players will find a higher stage. "It's difficult," Duncan said. "I want to see them do well but I want to hang on to them as well." For the moment both goals are being achieved at Saltergate. When they do move the fees will help the club follow suit.

Ten years ago it was going to the dogs, metaphorically, with a winding- up order being served. Now it is awaiting planning permission to do so literally with a new ground mooted at the town's derelict dog track. At least they stayed at Saltergate long enough for it to be touched by that old cup magic.

Goal: Curtis (pen 54) 1-0.

Chesterfield (3-4-3): Mercer; Hewitt, Holland, Carr; Perkins, Curtis, Beaumont, Jules; Davies, Morris, Howard. Substitutes not used: Lormor, Mitchell, Gaughan.

Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Crossley, Lyttle, Blatherwick (McGregor, 83), Cooper, Chettle; Campbell, Haland, Bart-Williams, Woan (Gemmill, 72); Saunders, Roy (Fettis, 53).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill).

Bookings: Chesterfield: Morris; Nottingham Forest: Cooper, Woan. Sending off: Nottingham Forest: Crossley.

Man of the match: Howard. Attendance: 8,890