POOLIE IN NOTTINGHAM goes up the road

I was quite pleased when Chesterfield got promoted at the end of last season, firstly because it is about half an hour’s drive from where I live, and also because it would be my first visit to another new ground. I am not a fan of new grounds, but I live in hope that one day there will be one which I prefer to its predecessor.

Along with lots of other grounds which have gone by the wayside, I will miss Saltergate. Despite being one of the worst grounds in the football league, it was absolutely packed with character. It was a relic from football past – rusting, crumbling, no roof on the away end (or the bogs in the away end), and it was one of the few grounds you could queue up at the pie stall and whilst still having a great view of the pitch from the top of the terrace.

It was the perfect choice for the makers of ‘The Damned United’, when looking for a location which evoked the essence of a ground in the 70s. Sadly it is probably now where a supermarket or housing development now stands, but at least it has been preserved on film. "One day in my lifetime I reckon there will be a decent sized town somewhere in the UK which will just have a huge Tesco store in the centre, with no other shops"

The day of the game was nippy but very sunny, perfect for a good game. I picked up Mark, another Nottingham-based Poolie who lives not far from me, before heading the short distance to Derby to get Andy, another Poolie. Luckily both Mark and Andy have Chesterfield-supporting mates who gave some good insider knowledge on where to park close to the ground without having to pay.

As with most new grounds, it was very easy to get to from the main road into town. The advice was good, and we parked up in a spot near to the closed-down Tesco. It is not often you hear about a closed-down Tesco, but it wasn’t all bad news for the mega-retailer. On the other side of the roundabout was a massive replacement store, the biggest I have ever seen. One day in my lifetime I reckon there will be a decent sized town somewhere in the UK which will just have a huge Tesco store in the centre, with no other shops.

We had a quick drink in the bar of the hotel near the ground with Andy’s Chesterfield-supporting mate. It turns out that he was on Chesterfield’s books many years ago, although he never actually made a first-team appearance. The closest he got was a trip to somewhere like Southend for a Tuesday night game, where he was an unused substitute. Close but no cigar or what?

Once we had skirted the omnipresent supermarket, the ground came into view. Pretty much what I was expecting really, neat and shiny in a concretey sort of way. As we got round to the away end there were several coaches and minibuses from the town parked up, promising a good Poolie turnout. Rounding the corner this was confirmed by a huge queue leading to a small hut. It turned out that they weren’t queueing for pies or pints, but tickets to get into the ground.

One poor old dear was struggling to serve the visiting fans quickly, and it was a good ten minutes before we got our mits on the barcoded bits of card which permitted our entry. I can’t understand how the authorities responsible for planning the games make such a cock-up of what should be a simple logistical process. At least we made it in before the teams ran out, giving me a minute or two to ‘admire’ the architecture. As new grounds go it is definitely one of the best I’ve been to, seemingly inspired by Huddersfield’s arched roofs.

The game started well for Pools, plenty of pressure, passing and movement. Unfortunately disaster soon struck, with sloppy defending leaving a striker lots of time to pick his place to slot past Flinders. Pools quickly hit back though, and a long-range diving header from Paul Murray looped into net before James Poole shot us into the lead with a pearler.

The Pools fans had been in great voice throughout the match, but midway through it all went quiet briefly before a minute’s applause for the memory of Michael Maidens, who tragically lost his life 4 years previously. This superb tribute was timed for the 25th minute, 25 being Maiden’s squad number, and the rest of the match saw several chants celebrating the life of the Pools player.

Half time came and went, and Pools increased their lead through a James Poole header from a perfect Horwood cross. Despite being in control of the game Pools wouldn’t be Pools unless they made us sweat for a bit. Chesterfield got back into it through a scrappy finish and when the board went up showing 5 minutes of additional time to be played my fingernails got some abuse.

The final whistle finally came, and Pools took a deserved three points back up the road. Chesterfield were pretty poor, and on another day they would have wiped the floor with them. The journey back home after an away win is always a jolly one, and featured much speculation about Mark’s forthcoming date with a nurse. I haven’t quizzed him about it yet, but if she was anything like Chesterfield she will have been a bit toothless, baggy in the middle, and loose round the back.