Chesterfield has a football history almost as long at the unique heritage forever associated with nearby Sheffield and Nottingham.
The only difference is that nobody knows about it.
While there is no doubt that the current Chesterfield FC, FA Cup semi-finalists (and so nearly finalists) in 1997, League Two winners 2014, were only founded in 1919, various predecessors date back to 1867 – perhaps 1866, maybe even earlier. The evidence is foggy at best.
Certainly, the Derbyshire market town of Chesterfield enjoys similarities with its South Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire neighbours where the first football clubs were formed – Sheffield FC in 1857, Notts County in 1862 – a full decade or more before the game came to the mill towns of Lancashire.
Indeed, today’s Sheffield FC play at Dronfield, almost exactly the same distance from Chesterfield as it is from Sheffield.
In fact, the first game involving any team from Chesterfield may well have taken place around this same location, or at least geographically between the two towns, as early as 1864. 1866 is another date quoted, sourced mainly from a football history written in the early 1900s.
The clearest earliest date, though, is 1867, when players at the Chesterfield Cricket Club formed a football team. Soon based at the Recreation Ground on Saltergate, these cricketers and footballers operated separately of each other from 1871 onwards.
After playing a number of friendlies, this first Chesterfield FC folded in 1881. By then there were other local teams, most notably Saltergate-based Chesterfield Livingstone and Chesterfield Spital, defeated by Rotherham, then Sheffield, in early FA Cup rounds in the mid-1880s.
Another Chesterfield FC had been formed in 1884, becoming known as Chesterfield Town and turning semi-pro in 1891. This was the first club to bring league football to Saltergate, in 1899.
Town’s had replaced Blackpool in the Second Division, a stay that would last a decade, with a fifth-placed finish in 1905 the best result. In 1909, Chesterfield failed to be re-elected and Lincoln City nipped in.
The club folded in 1915. In its place, a local entrepreneur formed a team of mainly guest players for war-time friendlies at Saltergate, but it didn’t make it past 1918.
In the end, the local council decided that Chesterfield needed a proper football club and created one in 1919. Its administration was quickly taken out of council hands, just as its original name of Chesterfield Municipal was soon changed –hardly a terrace chant, it also irked the Football League and FA offices.
Chesterfield FC became founder members of the Third Division North in 1921 and soon gained an identity. Often clashing with local rivals Mansfield and Rotherham, The Spireites, named after the town’s famous landmark, had all four stands in place at Saltergate before a series of top six finishes in Division Two either side of the war.
A series of commemorative events in the late spring and summer of 2010 marked the closure of the venerable ground and move to the site of a former glass factory, today surrounded by Aldi, Asda and Tesco supermarkets north of town.
The former B2net, now Proact Stadium, has seen international action, England under-19s and -21s – and housed a near 8,500 crowd for Chesterfield’s most convincing stab at a second-tier place since the war, the play-off semi-final with Preston in 2015.
From East Midlands, five National Express coaches a day run to Chesterfield (1.5hr-2hr journey time, £8).
From Stand 1A outside the terminal at Doncaster Sheffield, First South Yorkshire bus X4 https://www.firstgroup.com/south-yorkshire/more/x4 runs to Doncaster Interchange (Mon-Sat every 30min, Sun every hr, journey time 20min, £3). From there, two trains an hour run to Chesterfield via Sheffield (40min-1hr, £8).
There are two trains an hour from London St Pancras direct to Chesterfield (1hr 45min-2hr, cheapest online £20), and an hourly direct service from Manchester (1hr 15min, £8).
Chesterfield train station is just north-west of the town centre, in the same direction as the stadium, a straight road up. The bus station is the other side of town, south-east of the centre.
Club Taxis (01246 222 222) has offices both in the town centre and at the stadium, and offers airport transfers.
The stadium has not one but three lodgings options within a short walk away.
The most impressive is the design-forward, business-friendly, four-star Casa, whose name gives away its Spanish theme. The jacuzzi and hot tub suites are named after famous artists and architects, the Cocina restaurant used Spanish charcoal-fired ovens (but turns out a decent Sunday roast) and the Barça bar does tapas (but no pictures of Messi). Otherwise, it contains 100 smart, contemporary rooms, plus a gym, and can provide free weekday bus transfers to the bus and train stations in town.
Just the other side of the roundabout, the Premier Inn Chesterfield North is a standard budget choice while nearby, just over the rail tracks, the Lockoford Inn is both a convivial pre-match pub and a pleasant five-room B&B in a former farmhouse. Three of those rooms are en-suite.
In town, choices are fewer, given the closure of the landmark Chesterfield Hotel in 2015.
South-west of the town centre, near the bus station, the Portland is a Wetherspoon hotel, recently refurbished with 22 en-suite rooms.
At the south-east corner, by Rother Way that leads right up to the stadium, the ibis Chesterfield Centre has its own bar and restaurant.
Amid quiet, residential streets, the Abbeydale Hotel comprises 12 en-suite rooms, rates including a full English breakfast. It’s a 10min stroll into town.
Chesterfield town centre was once famed for its sheer number of pubs – many have closed in the last few years. But not all.
Near the famous spire, the Rutland is a fine choice, a friendly couple overseeing football on two screens, decent scran and a decent ale or two. You’ll find more ales at the nearby White Swan, an outlet for the Raw Brewing Company.
The other side of the Spire, the Punch Bowl (31 Holywell Street) is a traditional spot while the more functional Burlington is handy for TV sport.
You’ll find Marston’s ales at the said-to-be-haunted Spread Eagle near the bus station. On Saltergate, heading towards the old ground, the once closed Blue Bell has been taken over and refurbished by the ever ambitious Amber Taverns group, who swear by live sport and a community feel – always a good sign.